1.B.12 The Autotransporter-1 (AT-1) Family

Pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria produce a diversity (over 700 sequenced autotransporters) of virulence factors which cross the cytoplasmic membrane via the Sec (general secretory) pathway (TC #3.A.5), and following cleavage of their N-terminal targetting sequence, they thereby enter the periplasm of the Gram-negative bacterial cell envelope (Benjelloun-Touimi et al., 1995; Finn et al., 1995; Jose et al., 1995; Suzuki et al., 1995). The C-terminal 250-300 amino acyl residues of proteins known as 'autotransporters' fold and insert into the outer membrane to give rise to β-barrel structures with 12 transmembrane β-strands (TMSs) (Loveless et al., 1997; Maurer et al., 1999; Oomen et al., 2004). Karuppiah et al. (2011) have reviewed channel formation in outer membrane translocons. Sauri et al. (2011) have concluded that efficient passenger secretion requires the β-domain that not only functions as a targeting device but also is directly involved in the translocation of the passenger to the cell surface. Leo et al. (2012) review these and other (putative) autotransporters.  Drobnak et al. 2015 proposed a unified, nomenclature for AT structural, functional and conserved sequence features. Several reports suggest that AT1 proteins may not alone translocate their passenger domains to the outer surface of the outer membrane, but instead may use the β-barrel assembly machinery (BAM complex) to accomplish this task (Peterson et al. 2018). This is confirmed in a review by van Ulsen et al. 2018.

Secretion of autotransporters from several organisms requires the outer membrane assembly factor YaeT (Jain and Goldberg, 2007). This structure may form an oligomeric (8-10 mer) pore through which the N-terminal virulence factor is transported to the extracellular milieu (Guyer et al., 2000; Veiga et al., 2002). Alternatively, the unfolded protein may pass through the β-barrel of the monomer, or another export complex such as the OmpIP (TC #1.B.33) system may export the passenger domain (Skillman et al., 2005; Bernstein, 2007). Pore formation in lipid bilayers by several of these autotransporter (AT) domains, e.g., that in BrkA (TC #1.B.12.2.3) and EspP of E. coli (TC #1.B.12.4.3), has been demonstrated (Shannon and Fernandez, 1999; Skillman et al., 2005). Following its export, the precursor virulence factor is usually (but not always) proteolytically digested to release a soluble protein that can promote virulence (St. Geme et al., 2000).

Following translocation, the passenger domains of some autotransporters are cleaved by an unknown mechanism. The passenger domain of the Escherichia coli O157:H7 autotransporter EspP is released in an autoproteolytic reaction. After purification, the uncleaved EspP precursor undergoes proteolytic processing in vitro (Dautin et al., 2007). An analysis of protein topology together with mutational studies strongly suggested that the reaction occurs inside the β-barrel and that two conserved residues, an aspartate within the β-domain (Asp(1120)) and an asparagine (Asn(1023)) at the P1 position of the cleavage junction, are essential for passenger domain cleavage. These residues are also essential for the proteolytic processing of two distantly related autotransporters. Asp and Asn probably form catalytic dyad that mediates self-cleavage through the cyclization of the asparagine. A similar mechanism has been proposed for the maturation of eukaryotic viral capsids.

The 3-D x-ray crystallography structure of the translocator domain of the autotransporter, NalP, of Neisseria meningitidis has been solved (Oomen et al., 2004). The 12-stranded β-barrel shows a central hydrophilic pore of 10 x 12.5 Å that is filled by an N-terminal α-helix. This domain has pore activity in vivo and in vitro. Oomen et al. (2004) propose that the unfolded passenger domain is transported through the hydrophilic channel in the β-barrel. They suggest alternatively that Omp85, required for outer membrane protein insertion, may play a role.

Structural data suggest that the diameter of the beta-barrel pore may not be sufficient to allow the passage of partly folded structures. Sauri et al., (2009) used a stalled translocation intermediate of the autotransporter, Hbp, to identify components involved in insertion and translocation of the protein across the outer membrane. At this intermediate stage the beta-domain was not inserted and folded as an integral beta-barrel in the outer membrane whereas part of the passenger was surface exposed. The intermediate copurified with the periplasmic chaperone SurA and subunits of the Bam (Omp85) complex that catalyze the insertion and assembly of outer membrane proteins (1.B.33). A critical role for this general machinery in the translocation of autotransporters across the outer membrane seems reasonable.

Ieva and Bernstein (2009) showed that the insertion of a small linker into the passenger domain of the E. coli autotransporter EspP (1.B.12.4.3) effectively creates a translocation intermediate by transiently stalling translocation near the site of insertion. Residues adjacent to the stall point interact with BamA, a component of a heterooligomeric complex (Bam complex) that catalyzes OM protein assembly (1.A.33). Residues closer to the EspP N terminus interact with the periplasmic chaperones SurA and Skp. The EspP-BamA interaction was short-lived and could be detected only when passenger domain translocation was stalled. Molecular chaperones may thus prevent misfolding of the passenger domain before its secretion, and the Bam complex may catalyze both the integration of the beta domain into the OM and the translocation of the passenger domain across the OM in a C- to N-terminal direction.

The crystal structure of the autotransporter, Hbp (Tsh) of E. coli (TC #1.B.12.4.2), has been solved at 2.2 Å resolution. The hemoglobin proteases passenger domain proved to have the largest parallel α-helical structure yet solved (Otto et al., 2005). This structure is not likely to be applicable to all passenger domains of AT family members since these may possess any of a variety of functions.

Although the C-terminal autotransporter (AT) domains are all homologous, they are extremely diverse in sequence. Moreover, the N-terminal virulence factor domains are not all homologous. These various protein domains can (1) catalyze proteolysis, (2) serve as adhesins, (3) mediate actin-promoted bacterial motility or (4) serve as cytotoxins to animal cells. The intact protein, prior to processing, can vary in size between 418 amino acyl residues and 3705 residues. A few proteins appear to consist only of the AT domain. Such proteins might reasonably transport non-covalently linked proteins. A lack of specificity for the protein transported has been demonstrated for some autotransporters (Lattemann et al., 2000). Some unlinked autotransporters have been predicted to consist of 19 rather than 12 β-stranded barrels (Henderson et al., 2000).

The β-subunit of Flu (TC #1.B.12.1.3) (the AT domain) has been shown to transport the α-subunit (obtained by processing the intact Flu protein). The β-subunit can be used to display many foreign antigens, including whole protein domains, on the bacterial cell surface. This antigen expression system can be used in a wide range of proteobacteria. (Henderson et al., 1997). The EspP (TC# 1.B.12.4.3) β-domain and an embedded polypeptide segment appear to be integrated into the outer membrane as a single pre-formed unit (Ieva et al., 2008). At least some outer membrane proteins probably acquire tertiary structure prior to their membrane integration.

Autotransporters from a wide variety of rod-shaped pathogens, including IcsA and SepA of Shigella flexneri, AIDA-I of diffusely adherent Escherichia coli, and BrkA of Bordetella pertussis, are localized to the bacterial pole (Jain et al., 2006). Restriction of autotransporters to the pole is dependent on the presence of a complete lipopolysaccharide (LPS), consistent with known effects of LPS composition on membrane fluidity. Newly synthesized and secreted BrkA is polar even in the presence of truncated LPS, and all autotransporters examined are polar in the cytoplasm prior to secretion. Autotransporter secretion probably occurrs at the poles of rod-shaped gram-negative organisms. Moreover, NalP, an autotransporter of spherically shaped Neisseria meningitidis, contains the molecular information to localize to the pole of Escherichia coli. In N. meningitidis, NalP is secreted at distinct sites around the cell (Jain et al., 2006).

Adhesins of Campylobacter (1.B.12.10.1) contain repeat sequences that are homologous to repeat sequences in AT2 proteins and the toxins of TC# 1.C.11.1.4, 1.C.57.3.4 and 1.C.75.1.1, members of the RTX superfamily, as well as other toxins in these families, and TolA (2.C.1.2.1). These repeat sequences probably mediate protein-protein interacts and comprise parts of toxins.

C-terminal domains having an N-terminal α-helix and a β-barrel appear to constitute functional transport units for the translocation of peptides and immunoglobulin domains with disulfide bonds (Marín et al., 2010). In vivo and in vitro analyses showed that multimerization is not a conserved feature in AT C-terminal domains. Deletion of the conserved α-helix severely impairs β-barrel folding and OM insertion and thereby blocks passenger domain secretion. These observations suggest that the AT β-barrel without its α-helix cannot form a stable hydrophilic channel in the OM for protein translocation. 

When translocation to the cell surface is blocked, the AT passenger domain remains unfolded in the periplasm.  AT secretion is a kinetically controlled, non-equilibrium process coupled to folding of the passenger on the outer surface of the cell envelope (Drobnak et al. 2015).  Passenger folding is therefore presumed to be a driving force for OM translocation, but possibly another energy source is required to initiate the process.  The TamA/TamB proteins of the Translocation and assembly module (TAM) complex may catalyzed autotransport protein export (Heinz et al. 2015).

The generalized transport reaction catalyzed by AT domains is:

Protein virulence factor (periplasm) → protein virulence factor (external milieu)

This family belongs to the Outer Membrane Pore-forming Protein I (OMPP-I) Superfamily .



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TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.1.1Autotransporter of adhesin involved in diffuse adherence, AidA (Charbonneau and Mourez, 2007). Heptosylated on 16 ser and thr residues which is required for adhesion (Charbonneau et al., 2007). Gram-negative bacteria AidA of E. coli

PmpF of 1034 aas (Vasilevsky et al. 2016).

PmpF of Chlamydia trachomatis

1.B.12.1.2Autoexporter of virulence factor G, VirG or IcsAGram-negative bacteria VirG of Shigella flexneri

The MisL autotransporter/fibronectin binding protein; expression of misL is regulated by MisT (Tükel et al., 2007)

Gram-negative bacteria

MisL of Salmonella typhimurium (AAD16954)


Putative autotransporter, YcbB; YuaO of 1758 aas.


YuaO of E. coli K12


Biofilm adhesin autotransporter of 1250 aas, YfaL (Berry et al. 2009).

YfaL of E. coli


Autotransporter of 1349 aas, EhaA, involved in autoaggregation, biofilm formation and adhesion to epithelial cells (Wells et al. 2008).

EhaA of E. coli O157


Autotransporter PmpA of 975 aas (Vasilevsky et al. 2016).

PmpA of Chlamydia trachomatis


PmpB of 1754 aas (Vasilevsky et al. 2016)

PmpB of Chlamydia trachomatis


PmpD of 1531 aas (Vasilevsky et al. 2016).

PmpD of Chlamydia trachomatis


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.10.1The Campylobacter adhesion protein, CapA (Ashgar et al., 2007)

Gram-negative bacteria

CapA of Campylobacter jejuni (Q0PAN9)


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.11.1The outer membrane acid phosphatase autotransporter, MapA (940 aas) (Hoopman et al., 2008)

Gram-negative bacteria

MapA of Moraxella catarrhalis (A9XED4)


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.12.1The acidic repeat AT protein, ARP (1441 aas) (Litwin et al., 2007) (shows N-terminal sequence similarity to 1.B.12.2.3 and C-terminal similarity to 1.B.12.8.2). Gram-negative Bacteria Arp of Bartonella henselae (Q6G2D1)

Uncharacterized opacity protein or related surface antigen of 398 aas and 1 N-terminal TMS.

UP of Candidatus Brocadiaceae bacterium


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Surface antigen, Sca2; required for intracellular actin based motility in Rickettsia (Kleba et al., 2010).

Gram-negative bacteria

Sca2 of Rickettsia rickettsii (Q3L8P4)


Autotransporter, OmpA

Gram-negative bacteria

OmpA of Rickettsia sp. p1A (B5A5W2)


Autotransporter, OmpB

Gram-negative bacteria

OmpB of Rickettsia helvetica (F1CET6)


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Autoexporter of pertactin, Ptt of 910 aas with a C-terminal β-barrel domain which has been crystalized (Zhu et al. 2007).  It is a bacterial adhesin and vaccine target which influences the duration of B. pertussis infections but does not otherwise affect the disease (Vodzak et al. 2016).

Gram-negative bacteria

Ptt of Bordetella pertussis

1.B.12.2.2Autoexporter of tracheal colonization factor Gram-negative bacteria TcfA of Bordetella pertussis
1.B.12.2.3Autoexporter of Bordetella resistance to killing proteins Gram-negative bacteria BrkA of Bordetella pertussis

Autotransporter-1 family member

Firmicute with outer membrane

Autotransporter-1 of Selenomonas sputigena


Autotransporter, BapC of 909 aas with an established transmembrane β-barrel and a long α-structured passenger domain (Riaz et al. 2015).


BapC of Bordetella pertussis


Putative autotransporter of 955 aas

Autotransporter of E. coli


Autotransporter of 980 aas, EhaB, involved in biofilm formation as well as adhesion to collagen I and laminin (Wells et al. 2008).

EhaB of E. coli


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.3.1Autoexporter of IgA protease Gram-negative bacteria IgA protease of Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Autoexporter of adhesion and penetration protein

Gram-negative bacteria

Hap of Haemophilus influenzae


Autotransporter/adhesin of 912 aas and 1 N-terminal TMS, Aae. Aae mediates A. actinomycetemcomitans adhesion to epithelial cells and may be involved in biofilm formation and interaction with adsorbed salivary proteins (Nunes et al. 2017).

Aae of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans) (Haemophilus actinomycetemcomitans)


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.4.1Autoexporter of EPEC-secreted protein C Gram-negative bacteria EspC of E. coli

Autoexporter of temperature-sensitive hemagglutinin, a hemoglobin binding protease, Tsh/Hbp (1377 aas) (Jong and Luirink, 2008; Peterson et al., 2006). The pore of the Hbp TD is largely obstructed, but a variant that lacked one amino acid residue from the N-terminus showed the opening and closing of a channel comparable to what was reported for the TD of NalP. Hbp is processed by an autocatalytic intramolecular mechanism resulting in the stable docking of the α-helical plug in the barrel.

Gram-negative bacteria

Tsh/Hbp of E. coli


Autotransporter of serine protease, EspP (with long N-terminal leader that prevents improper folding in the periplasm) (Szabady et al., 2005; Ieva et al., 2008). Energy for export is provided by the folding of the C-terminal domain (Peterson et al., 2010).

Gram-negative bacteria

EspP of E. coli (NP_052685)


Autotransporter-1, Pet (serine protease; 1295 aas)) (Eslava et al., 1998Leyton et al., 2010).  The first stage of autotransporter folding determines whether subsequent translocation can deliver the N-terminal domain to its functional form on the bacterial cell surface. Paired conserved glycine-aromatic 'mortise and tenon' motifs join neighbouring beta-strands in the C-terminal barrel domain, and mutations within these motifs slow the rate and extent of passenger domain translocation to the surface of bacterial cell (Leyton et al. 2014).


Pet of E. coli (O68900)


Autotransporter-1, Pic (serine protease;1372 aas) (Henderson et al., 1999).

Gram-negative bacteria

Pic of E. coli (Q7BS42)


Autotransporter-1, Sat (Serine protease; 1295 aas) (Guyer et al., 2000).

Gram-negative bacteria

Sat of E. coli (Q8FDW4)


Vacuolating Autotransporter-1, Vat (1376 aas; protease; pertactin-like passenger domain; virulence factor)

Gram-negative bacteria

Vat of E. coli (A1A7W8)


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.5.1Autoexporter of serine protease Gram-negative bacteria Ssp of Serratia marcescens

Autotransporter, YapE of 1072 aas (Lawrenz et al. 2013).

YapE of Yersinia pestis


Autotransporter outer membrane beta-barrel domain-containing protein of 2358 aa

Autotransporter outer membrane beta-barrel domain-containing protein of Burkholderia cepacia

1.B.12.5.2The Azorhizobial autotransporter AoaA, required for N- fixing activity of stem nodules (Suzuki et al., 2008).

Gram-negative bacteria

AoaA of Azorhizobium caulinodans (A8IBA8)

1.B.12.5.3The cytotoxin/agglutinin AT-1 protein, Pta (Alamuri and Mobley, 2008).

Gram-negative bacteria

Pta of Proteus mirabilis (B4F2I9)


Autotransporter-1, ShdA (2035 aas) (Kingsley et al., 2003).

Gram-negative bacteria

ShdA of Salmonella enterica (Q9XCJ4)


Autotransporter-1, BigA (1953 aas) (Lauri et al. 2011).

Gram-negative bacteria

BigA of Salmonella typhimurium (P25927)


Autotransporter essential for virulence and biofilm formation of 1242 aas, Pfa1.  The passenger domain is a serine protease, cytotoxic to cultured fish cells (Hu et al. 2009).


Pfa1 of Pseudomonas fluorescens


Putative autotransporter of 886 aas


AT of Bordetella pertussis


Autotransporter of 1128 aas


AT of Chromobacterium vioalceum

1.B.12.5.9Autoexporter of lipase/esterase, EstAGram-negative bacteriaEstA of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample
1.B.12.7.1Autoexporter of Helicobacter surface ring protein Gram-negative bacteria Hsr of Helicobacter mustelae

TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Putative autotransporter of 736 aas


AT of Yersina pestis


Fluffing protein (Flu) or antigen-43 (Ag-43; Ag43; also called YeeQ and YzzX). Processed proteolytically to the α- (soluble) and β- (membrane anchored) subunits; determines colony morphology and autoaggregation of E. coli K12 and many pathogenic strains (Henderson et al., 1997; Klemm et al. 2006).  May function in autotransporter processing.

Gram-negative bacteria

Flu of E. coli


Autotransporter-1, TibA (989 aas; an Adhesin/Invasin associated with some enterotoxigenic E. coli) (Lindenthal and Elsinghorst et al., 1999; Klemm et al. 2006).

Gram-negative bacteria

TibA of E. coli (Q9XD84)


Putative outer membrane autotransporter, YnaI, of 863 aas and one N-terminal TMS.

YnaI of E. coli


TC#NameOrganismal TypeExample

Autotransporter of N-terminal protease passenger domain that cleaves surface-localized virulence factors.  The 3-d structure is known (Oomen et al., 2004). The crystal structure of the NalP translocator domain revealed a 12 β-stranded transmembrane beta-barrel containing a central alpha-helix. The transmembrane beta-barrel is stable even in the absence of the alpha-helix. Removal of the helix results in an influx of water into the pore region, suggesting the helix acts as a 'plug' (Khalid and Sansom 2006). The dimensions of the pore fluctuate, but the NalP monomer is sufficient for the transport of the passenger domain in an unfolded or extended conformation (Khalid and Sansom 2006). NalP is subject to phase variation (Oldfield et al. 2013).


pNalP of Neisseria meningitidis (AAN71715)

1.B.12.9.2The serine protease autotransporter, SphB1

Gram-negative bacteria

SphB1 of Bordetella pertussis (Q7W0C9)