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Bischoff, Lukas (2015): Structural analysis of membrane protein biogenesis and ribosome stalling by cryo-electron microscopy. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy



To study the mechanisms of membrane protein insertion we established a protocol that allows isolation of in vivo assembled ribosome nascent chain complexes (RNCs) from E. coli in high yield and quality. To investigate the interaction of SecY with a translating ribosome, model membrane proteins of different length and topology were over-expressed and the respective RNCs were isolated under mild conditions to allow co-purification of the SecY complex. Analysis of the interaction of RNCs with SecY in vivo suggested that, as expected, a tight engagement of the ribosome and SecY is only established for nascent chains that are translocated co-translationally. We observed that SecY and the RNC do not form a stable complex at the moment of hydrophobic transmembrane segments inserting in the translocon. However, a stable engagement of the RNC with SecY was observed, when inserting a transmembrane segment with a type II topology into SecY followed by a hydrophilic loop of a certain length which allows the isolation of this complex. That suggested a dual binding mode of tight and loose coupling of SecY to the translating ribosome dependent on the nature of the nascent substrate. We present the first three dimensional structure of an in vivo assembled, tightly coupled polytopic RNC-SecYE complex at 7.2 Å solved by cryo-EM and single particle reconstruction. A molecular model based on the cryo-EM structure reveals that SecYE could be trapped in a post-insertion state, with the two substrate helices interacting with the periphery of SecY, while still translocating the hydrophilic loop. The lateral gate of SecY remains in a ‘pre-opened’ conformation during the translocation of the hydrophilic loop. The interaction sites of SecY with the ribosome were found as described. Remarkably, we could also reveal an interaction of helix 59 in the ribosome with nascent membrane protein via positively charged residues in the first cytoplasmic loop of the substrate. It is tempting to speculate that this interaction contributes to the positive inside rule. Though, we provided an unprecedented snapshot of an inserting polytopic membrane protein, the exact path of the nascent chain and the molecular mechanism of the actual insertion could not be solved so far. Expression of the E. coli tryptophanase (TnaA) operon is triggered by ribosome stalling during translation of the upstream TnaC leader peptide. Notably, this stalling is strictly dependent on the presence of tryptophan that acts in a hitherto unknown way. Here, we present a cryo-EM reconstruction of the stalled nascent TnaC leader peptide in the ribosomal exit tunnel. The structure of the TnaC-stalled ribosome was solved to an average resolution of 3.8 Å by cryo-EM and single particle analysis. It reveals the conformation of the silenced peptidyl-transferase center as well as the exact path of the stalled nascent peptide and its contacts in detail. Furthermore, we clearly resolve not a single but two free tryptophan molecules in the ribosomal exit tunnel. The nascent TnaC peptide chain together with distinct rRNA bases in the ribosomal exit tunnel creates two hydrophobic binding pockets for the tryptophan coordination. One tryptophan molecule is coordinated by V20 and I19 of TnaC and interacts with U2586 of the rRNA, the second tryptophan is bound between I19 and I15 in the area of A2058 and A2059 of the rRNA. Interestingly, the latter is also the binding platform for macrolide antibiotics. Engagement of L-Trp in these composite binding pockets leads to subtle conformational changes in residues of the ribosomal tunnel wall that are translated to the PTC eventually resulting in silencing by stabilizing the conformations of the conserved nucleotides A2602 and U2585. These conformations of the two nucleotides in the PTC are incompatible with the correct accommodation of the GGQ motive of release factor 2, thus inhibiting the peptide release.