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Three-dimensional structure of the regular tetragonal surface layer of Azotobacter vinelandii

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Bingle, W. H., Engelhardt, H., Page, W. J., & Baumeister, W. (1987). Three-dimensional structure of the regular tetragonal surface layer of Azotobacter vinelandii. Journal of Bacteriology., 169(11), 5008-5015.

Fragments of the Azotobacter vinelandii tetragonal surface (S) layer, free of outer membrane material, were obtained by treating whole cells with 100 microM EDTA. The three-dimensional structure of the S layer was reconstructed from tilted-view electron micrographs of the S-layer fragments, after computer-assisted image processing by correlation averaging. At a resolution of 1.7 nm, the S layer exhibited funnel-shaped subunits situated at one fourfold-symmetry axis and interconnected at the other fourfold-symmetry axis to form prominent cruciform linking structures. These data, in conjunction with a relief reconstruction of the surface of freeze-etched whole cells, indicated that the apex of the funnel-shaped subunit was associated with the outer membrane, while the funnel "opening" faced the environment; the cruciform linking structures were formed at the outermost surface of the S layer. Electron microscopy and image enhancement were used to compare the structure of the outer membrane-associated S layer with that of fragments of the S layer dislodged from the outer membrane. This analysis revealed an increase in the lattice constant of the S layer from 12.5 to 13.6 nm and an alteration in the position of the cruciform linking structures in the z direction. These conformational changes resulted in a reduction in the thickness of the S layer (minimum estimate, 5 nm) and an apparent increase in the size of the gaps between the subunits. In terms of the porosity of the S layer, this gave the appearance of a transition from a closed to a more open structure.