Microbial motility frequently depends on flagella or type IV pili. Using recently developed archaeal genetic tools, archaeal flagella and its assembly machinery have been identified. Archaeal flagella are functionally similar to bacterial flagella and their assembly systems are homologous with type IV pili assembly systems of Gram-negative bacteria. Therefore elucidating their biochemistry may result in insights in both archaea and bacteria. FlaI, a critical cytoplasmic component of the archaeal flagella assembly system in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius, is a member of the type II/IV secretion system ATPase superfamily, and is proposed to be bi-functional in driving flagella assembly and movement. In the present study we show that purified FlaI is a Mn2+-dependent ATPase that binds MANT-ATP [2′-/3′-O-(N′- methylanthraniloyl)adenosine-5′-O-triphosphate] with a high affinity and hydrolyses ATP in a co-operative manner. FlaI has an optimum pH and temperature of 6.5 and 75 °C for ATP hydrolysis. Remarkably, archaeal, but not bacterial, lipids stimulated the ATPase activity of FlaI 3–4-fold. Analytical gel filtration indicated that FlaI undergoes nucleotide-dependent oligomerization. Furthermore, SAXS (small-angle X-ray scattering) analysis revealed an ATP-dependent hexamerization of FlaI in solution. The results of the present study report the first detailed biochemical analyses of the motor protein of an archaeal flagellum.

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