A subset of bacterial periplasmic enzymes are transported from the cytoplasm by the twin-arginine transport apparatus. Such proteins contain distinctive N-terminal signal peptides containing a conserved SRRXFLK ‘twin-arginine’ amino acid motif and often bind complex cofactors before the transport event. It is important that assembly of complex cofactor-containing, and often multi-subunit, enzymes is complete before export. Studies of the unrelated [NiFe] hydrogenase, DMSO reductase and trimethylamine N-oxide reductase systems from Escherichia coli have enabled us to define a chaperone-mediated ‘proofreading’ mechanism involved in co-ordinating assembly and export of twin-arginine transport-dependent enzymes.

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