Date of Award

December 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Valerica Raicu

Committee Members

Dilano K. Saldin, Prasenjit Guptasarma, Julie A. Oliver, Marius Schmidt


ABC Transporter, FRET, Lipopolysaccharides, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, Wzm, Wzt


Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) has become an important tool to study proteins inside living cells. It has been used to explore membrane protein folding and dynamics, determine stoichiometry and geometry of protein complexes, and measure the distance between two molecules. In this dissertation, we use a method based on FRET and optical micro-spectroscopy (OptiMiS) technology, developed in our lab, to probe the structure of dynamic (as opposed to static) protein complexes in living cells. We use this method to determine the association stoichiometry and quaternary structure of an ABC transporter in living cells. Specifically, the transporter we investigate originates from the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a Gram-negative bacterium with several virulence factors, lipopolysaccharides being one of them. This pathogen coexpresses two unique forms of lipopolysaccharides on its surface, the A- and B-bands. The A-band polysaccharides, synthesized in the cytoplasm, are translocated into the periplasm through an ATP-binding-cassette (ABC) transporter consisting of a transmembranar protein, Wzm, and a nucleotide-binding protein, Wzt. In P. aeruginosa, all of the biochemical studies of A-band LPS are concentrated on the stages of the synthesis and ligation of polysaccharides (PSs), leaving the export stage involving ABC transporter unexplored. The mode of PS export through ABC transporters is still unknown. This difficulty is due to the lack of information about sub-unit composition and structure of this bi-component ABC transporter.

Using the FRET-OptiMiS combination method developed by our lab, we found that Wzt forms a rhombus-shaped homo-tetramer which becomes a square upon co-expression with Wzm, and that Wzm forms a square-shaped homo-tetramer both in the presence and absence of Wzt. Based on these results, we propose a structural model for the double-tetramer complex formed by the bi-component ABC transporter in living cells. An understanding of the structure and behavior of this ABC transporter will help develop antibiotics targeting the biosynthesis of the A-band LPS endotoxin.