This thesis describes several important advancements in the understanding of the assembly of outer membrane proteins of Gram-negative bacteria like Escherichia coli. A first study was performed to identify binding regions in the trimeric chaperone Skp for outer membrane proteins. Skp is known to facilitate the passage of unfolded outer membrane proteins (OMPs) through the periplasm to the outer membrane (OM). A gene construct named “synthetic chaperone protein (scp)” gene was used to express a fusion protein (Scp) into the cytoplasm of E. coli. The scp gene was used as a template to design mutants of Scp suitable for structural and functional studies using site-directed spectroscopy. Fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) was used to identify distances in Skp-OmpA complexes that separate regions in Scp and in outer membrane protein A (OmpA) from E. coli. For this study, single cysteine (Cys) mutants and single Cys - single tryptophan (Trp) double mutants of Scp were prepared. For FRET experiments, the cysteines were labeled with the tryptophan fluorescence energy acceptor IAEDANS. Single Trp mutants of OmpA were used as fluorescence energy donors.
In the second part of this thesis, the function of BamD and the structure of BamD-Scp complexes were examined. BamD is an essential component of the β-barrel assembly machinery (BAM) complex of the OM of Gram-negative bacteria. Fluorescence spectroscopy was used to probe the interactions of BamD with lipid membranes and to investigate the interactions of BamD with possible partner proteins from the periplasm and from the OM. A range of single cysteine (Cys) and single tryptophan (Trp) mutants of BamD were prepared. A very important conclusion from the extensive FRET study is that the essential lipoprotein BamD interacts and binds to the periplasmic chaperone Skp. BamD contains tetratrico peptide repeat (TPR) motifs that are suggested to serve as docking sites for periplasmic chaperones such as Skp.