The EpsE Flagellar Clutch Is Bifunctional and Synergizes with EPS Biosynthesis to Promote Bacillus subtilis Biofilm Formation
MotA and MotB are integral membrane proteins of Escherichia coli that form the stator of the proton-fueled flagellar rotary motor. The motor contains several MotA/MotB complexes, which function independently to conduct protons across the cytoplasmic membrane and couple proton flow to rotation. MotB contains a conserved aspartic acid residue, Asp32, that is critical for rotation. We have proposed that the protons energizing the motor interact with Asp32 of MotB to induce conformational changes in the stator that drive movement of the rotor. To test for conformational changes, we examined the protease susceptibility of MotA in membrane-bound complexes with either wild-type MotB or MotB mutated at residue 32. Small, uncharged replacements of Asp32 in MotB (D32N, D32A, D32G, D32S, or D32C) caused a significant change in the conformation of MotA, as evidenced by a change in the pattern of proteolytic fragments. The conformational change does not require any flagellar proteins besides MotA and MotB, as it was still seen in a strain that expresses no other flagellar genes. It affects a cytoplasmic domain of MotA that contains residues known to interact with the rotor, consistent with a role in the generation of torque. Influences of key residues of MotA on conformation were also examined. Pro173 of MotA, known to be important for rotation, is a significant determinant of conformation: Dominant Pro173 mutations, but not recessive ones, altered the proteolysis pattern of MotA and also prevented the conformational change induced by Asp32 replacements. Arg90 and Glu98, residues of MotA that engage in electrostatic interactions with the rotor, appear not to be strong determinants of conformation of the MotA/MotB complex in membranes. We note sequence similarity between MotA and ExbB, a cytoplasmic-membrane protein that energizes outer-membrane transport in Gram-negative bacteria. ExbB and associated proteins might also employ a mechanism involving proton-driven conformational change.