Yosef, I., Bochkareva, E. S., Bibi, E.
The Escherichia coli signal recognition particle (SRP) system plays an important role in membrane protein biogenesis. Previous studies have suggested indirectly that in addition to its role during the targeting of ribosomes translating membrane proteins to translocons, the SRP might also have a quality control role in preventing premature synthesis of membrane proteins in the cytoplasm. This proposal was studied here using cells simultaneously overexpressing various membrane proteins and either SRP, the SRP protein Ffh, its 4.5S RNA, or the Ffh M domain. The results show that SRP, Ffh, and the M domain are all able to selectively inhibit the expression of membrane proteins. We observed no apparent changes in the steady-state mRNA levels or membrane protein stability, suggesting that inhibition may occur at the level of translation, possibly through the interaction between Ffh and ribosome-hydrophobic nascent chain complexes. Since E. coli SRP does not have a eukaryote-like translation arrest domain, we discuss other possible mechanisms by which this SRP might regulate membrane protein translation when overexpressed.
IMPORTANCE The eukaryotic SRP slows down translation of SRP substrates by cytoplasmic ribosomes. This activity is important for preventing premature synthesis of secretory and membrane proteins in the cytoplasm. It is likely that an analogous quality control step would be required in all living cells. However, on the basis of its composition and domain structure and limited in vitro studies, it is believed that the E. coli SRP is unable to regulate ribosomes translating membrane proteins. Nevertheless, several in vivo studies have suggested otherwise. To address this issue further in vivo, we utilized unbalanced conditions under which E. coli simultaneously overexpresses SRP and each of several membrane or cytosolic proteins. Surprisingly, our results clearly show that the E. coli SRP is capable of regulating membrane protein synthesis and demonstrate that the M domain of Ffh mediates this activity. These results thus open the way for mechanistic characterization of this quality control process in bacteria.