Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Yinan Wei


Escherichia coli transporter protein AcrB and its homologues are the inner membrane components of the Resistance-Nodulation-Division (RND) family efflux pumps in Gram-negative bacteria. It is well accepted that soluble proteins are only marginally stable, but such insight is missing for membrane proteins. The lack of stability data, including thermodynamic stability and oligomer association affinity is a result of intrinsic difficulties in working with membrane proteins. In addition, the degradation of soluble proteins in E. coli has been extensively studied whereas the degradation process of membrane proteins remains unclear. A focus of my thesis is the validation and development of methods used to measure the thermo- and oligomeric- stability of membrane proteins. I investigated the mechanism of a popular thermal-stability assay developed specifically for the study of membrane proteins uses a thiol-specific probe, 7-diethylamino-3-(4-maleimidophenyl)-4-methylcoumarin (CPM). I found that, contrary to current understanding, the presence of a sulfhydryl group was not a prerequisite for the CPM thermal stability assay. The observed fluorescence increase is likely caused by binding of the fluorophore to hydrophobic patches exposed upon protein unfolding. I then applied these methods in the study of three projects. In the first project, I investigated how suppressor mutations restore the function of AcrBP223G, in which the Pro223 to Gly mutation compromised the function of AcrB via disrupting AcrB trimerization. The results suggested that the function loss resulted from compromised AcrB trimerization could be restored through various mechanisms involving the compensation of trimer stability and substrate binding. In the second project, I created two AcrB fusion proteins, with C-terminal yellow fluorescence protein (YFP) and cyan fluorescence protein (CFP), respectively. YFP and CFP form a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) pair. Using this pair of fusion proteins, I studied AcrB assembly both in detergent micelles and in lipid bilayers. A positive cooperativity was observed in kinetic studies of association of AcrB trimer. Reconstitution experiment revealed that the association showed a higher FRET efficiency and faster association rate in liposome than in DDM. In the last project, I developed a fluorescence method to study the degradation of AcrB-ssrA by the ClpXP system. Comparing to the degradation of GFP-ssrA, degradation of AcrB-CFP-ssrA showed a lower maximum velocity and tighter binding to the enzymes with a positive cooperativity.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)