The biogenesis of outer membrane proteins (OMPs) is an extremely challenging process. In the periplasm of Escherichia coli, a group of quality control factors work together to exercise the safe-guard and quality control of OMPs. DegP, Skp and SurA are the three most prominent ones. Although extensive investigations have been carried out, the molecular mechanism regarding the networking among these proteins remains mostly mysterious. Our group has previously studied the molecular interactions of OMPs with SurA and Skp, using single-molecule detection (SMD). In this work, again using SMD, we studied how OmpC, a representative of OMPs, interacts with DegP, Skp and SurA collectively. Several important discoveries were made. The self-oligomerization of DegP to form hexamer occurs over hundred micromolars. When OmpC is in a monomer state at a low concentration, the OmpC·DegP6 and OmpC·DegP24 complexes form when the DegP concentration is around sub-micromolars and a hundred micromolars, respectively. High OmpC concentration promotes the binding affinity of DegP to OmpC by ∼100 folds. Skp and SurA behave differently when they interact synergistically with DegP in the presence of substrate. DegP can degrade SurA-protected OmpC, but Skp-protected OmpC forms the ternary complex OmpC·(Skp3)n·DegP6 (n = 1,2) to resist the DegP-mediated degradation. Combined with previous results, we were able to depict a comprehensive picture regarding the molecular mechanism of the networking among DegP, Skp and SurA in the periplasm for the OMPs biogenesis under physiological and stressed conditions.

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