Abstract

The ferric enterobactin receptor (FepA) is a high-affinity ligand-specific transport protein in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. Deletion of the cell-surface ligand-binding peptides of FepA generated mutant proteins that were incapable of high-affinity uptake but that instead formed nonspecific, passive channels in the outer membrane. Unlike native FepA, these pores acted independently of the accessory protein TonB, which suggests that FepA is a gated porin and that TonB acts as its gatekeeper by facilitating the entry of ligands into the FepA channel. The sequence homology among TonB-dependent proteins suggests that all ligand-specific outer membrane receptors may function by this gated-porin mechanism.