Molecular transformers in the cell: lessons learned from the DegP protease-chaperone.
The Escherichia coli DegP protein is an essential periplasmic protein for bacterial survival at high temperatures. DegP has the unusual property of working as a chaperone below 28 degrees C, but efficiently degrading unfolded proteins above 28 degrees C. Monomeric DegP contains a protease domain and two PDZ domains. It oligomerizes into a hexameric cage through the staggered association of trimers. The active sites are located in a central cavity that is only accessible laterally, and the 12 PDZ domains act as mobile sidewalls that mediate opening and closing of the gates. As access to the active sites is restricted, DegP is an example of a self-compartmentalized protease. To determine the essential elements of DegP that maintain the integrity of the hexameric cage, we constructed several deletion mutants of DegP that formed trimers rather than hexamers. We found that residues 39 to 78 within the LA loops, as well as the PDZ2 domains are essential for the integrity of the DegP hexamer. In addition, we asked whether an enclosed cavity or cage of specific dimensions is required for the protease and chaperone activities in DegP. Both activities were maintained in the trimeric DegP mutants without an enclosed cavity and in deletion DegP mutants with significantly reduced dimensions of the cage. We conclude that the functional unit for the protease and chaperone activities of DegP is a trimer and that neither a cavity of specific dimensions nor the presence of an enclosed cavity appears to be essential for the protease and chaperone activities of DegP.