Outer membrane protein A (OmpA) of Escherichia coli is a paradigm for the biogenesis of outer membrane proteins; however, the structure and assembly of OmpA have remained controversial. A review of studies to date supports the hypothesis that native OmpA is a single-domain large pore, while a two-domain narrow-pore structure is a folding intermediate or minor conformer. The in vitro refolding of OmpA to the large-pore conformation requires isolation of the protein from outer membranes with retention of an intact disulfide bond followed by sufficient incubation in lipids at temperatures of ≥ 26 °C to overcome the high energy of activation for refolding. The in vivo maturation of the protein involves covalent modification of serines in the eighth β-barrel of the N-terminal domain by oligo-(R)-3-hydroxybutyrates as the protein is escorted across the cytoplasm by SecB for post-translational secretion across the secretory translocase in the inner membrane. After cleavage of the signal sequence, protein chaperones, such as Skp, DegP and SurA, guide OmpA across the periplasm to the β-barrel assembly machinery (BAM) complex in the outer membrane. During this passage, a disulfide bond is formed between C290 and C302 by DsbA, and the hydrophobicity of segments of the C-terminal domain, which are destined for incorporation as β-barrels in the outer membrane bilayer, is increased by covalent attachment of oligo-(R)-3-hydroxybutyrates. With the aid of the BAM complex, OmpA is then assembled into the outer membrane as a single-domain large pore.
Outer membrane protein A (OmpA) of Escherichia coli is a model for the biogenesis of outer membrane proteins. Here I discuss the native conformation of OmpA, the in vitro refolding of OmpA into its native conformation, and the mechanisms by which OmpA is transported to and assembled within the outer membrane in its native conformation in vivo.