Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Yinan Wei


The World Health Organization has identified antimicrobial resistance as one of the top three threats to human health. Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli are intrinsically more resistant to antimicrobials. There are very few drugs either on the market or in the pharmaceutical pipeline targeting Gram-negative pathogens. Two mechanisms, the protection of the outer membrane and the active efflux by the multidrug transporters, play important roles in conferring multidrug resistance to Gram-negative bacteria. My work focuses on two main directions, each aligning with one of the known multidrug resistance mechanisms.

The first direction of my research is in the area of the biogenesis of the bacterial outer membrane. The outer membrane serves as a permeability barrier in Gram-negative bacteria. Antibiotics cross the membrane barrier mainly via diffusion into the lipid bilayer or channels formed by outer membrane proteins. Therefore, bacterial drug resistance is closely correlated with the integrity of the outer membrane, which depends on the correct folding of the outer membrane proteins. The folding of the outer membrane proteins has been studied extensively in dilute buffer solution. However, the cell periplasm, where the folding actually occurs, is a crowded environment. In Chapter 2, effects of the macromolecular crowding on the folding mechanisms of two bacterial outer membrane proteins (OmpA and OmpT) were examined. Our results suggested that the periplasmic domain of OmpA improved the efficiency of the OmpA maturation under the crowding condition, while refolding of OmpT was barely affected by the crowding.

The second direction of my research focuses on the major multidrug efflux transporter in Gram-negative bacteria, AcrB. AcrB is an obligate trimer, which exists and functions exclusively in a trimeric state. In Chapter 3, the unfolding of the AcrB trimer was investigated. Our results revealed that sodium dodecyl sulfate induced unfolding of the trimeric AcrB started with a local structural rearrangement. While the refolding of secondary structure in individual monomers could be achieved, the re-association of the trimer might be the limiting factor to obtain folded wild type AcrB. In Chapter 4, the correlation between the AcrB trimer stability and the transporter activity was studied. A non-linear correlation was observed, in which the threshold trimer stability was required to maintain the efflux activity. Finally, in Chapter 5, the stability of another inner membrane protein, AqpZ, was studied. AqpZ was remarkably stable. Several molecular engineering approaches were tested to improve the thermal stability of the protein.