The FhuA receptor in the outer membrane of Escherichia coli K-12 is involved in the uptake of ferrichrome, colicin M, and the antibiotic albomycin and in infection by phages T1, T5, and phi80. Fragments of up to 16 amino acid residues were inserted into FhuA and used to determine FhuA active sites and FhuA topology in the outer membrane. For this purpose antibiotic resistance boxes flanked by symmetric polylinkers were inserted into fhuA and subsequently partially deleted. Additional in-frame insertions were generated by mutagenesis with transposon Tnl725. The 68 FhuA protein derivatives examined contained segments of 4, 8, 12, 16, and 22 additional amino acid residues at 34 different locations from residues 5 to 646 of the mature protein. Most of the FhuA derivatives were found in normal amounts in the outer membrane fraction. Half of these were fully active toward all ligands, demonstrating proper insertion into the outer membrane. Seven of the 12- and 16-amino-acid-insertion derivatives (at residues 378, 402, 405, 415, 417, 456, and 646) were active toward all of the ligands and could be cleaved by subtilisin in whole cells, suggesting a surface location of the extra loops at sites which did not affed FhuA function. Two mutants were sensitive to subtilisin (insertions at residues 511 and 321) but displayed a strongly reduced sensitivity to colicin M and to phages phi80 and T1. Four of the insertion derivatives (at residues 162, 223, 369, and 531) were cleaved only in spheroplasts and probably form loops at the periplasmic side of the outer membrane. The number and size of the proteolytic fragments indicate cleavage at or close to the sites of insertion, which has been proved for five insertions by amino acid sequencing. Most mutants with functional defects were affected in their sensitivity to all ligands, yet frequently to different degrees. Some mutants showed a specifically altered sensitivity to a few ligands; for example, mutant 511-04 was partially resistant only to colicin M, mutant 241-04 was reduced in ferrichrome and albomycin uptake and showed a reduced colicin M sensitivity, and mutant 321-04 was fully resistant to phage T1 and partially resistant to phage phi80. The altered residues define preferential binding sites for these ligands. Insertions of 4 to 16 residues at positions 69, 70, 402, 530, 564, and 572 resulted in strongly reduced amounts of FhuA in the outer membrane fraction, varying in function from fully active to inactive. These results provide the basis for a model of FhuA organization in the outer membrane.
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