The TatABC subunits of the twin-arginine translocation machinery allow transport of folded proteins by an unknown mechanism. Here we show that the entire surfaces of folded Tat substrates contact TatB via both of its predicted helices. Our data suggest that TatB forms an oligomeric binding site that transiently accommodates folded Tat precursors.
Twin-arginine-containing signal sequences mediate the transmembrane transport of folded proteins. The cognate twin-arginine translocation (Tat) machinery of Escherichia coli consists of the membrane proteins TatA, TatB, and TatC. Whereas Tat signal peptides are recognized by TatB and TatC, little is known about molecular contacts of the mature, folded part of Tat precursor proteins. We have placed a photo-cross-linker into Tat substrates at sites predicted to be either surface-exposed or hidden in the core of the folded proteins. On targeting of these variants to the Tat machinery of membrane vesicles, all surface-exposed sites were found in close proximity to TatB. Correspondingly, incorporation of the cross-linker into TatB revealed multiple precursor-binding sites in the predicted transmembrane and amphipathic helices of TatB. Large adducts indicative of TatB oligomers contacting one precursor molecule were also obtained. Cross-linking of Tat substrates to TatB required an intact twin-arginine signal peptide and disappeared upon transmembrane translocation. Our collective data are consistent with TatB forming an oligomeric binding site that transiently accommodates folded Tat precursors.