TonB-dependent transporters (TBDTs) are bacterial outer membrane proteins that bind and transport ferric chelates called siderophores, as well as vitamin B12, nickel complexes, and carbohydrates. The transport process requires energy in the form of protonmotive force and a complex of three inner membrane proteins, TonB-ExbB-ExbD, to transduce this energy to the outer membrane. The siderophore substrates range in complexity from simple small molecules such as citrate to large proteins like serum transferrin and haemoglobin. Because iron uptake is vital for almost all bacteria, expression of TBDTs is regulated in a number of ways that include metal-dependent regulators, σ/anti-σ factor systems, small RNAs, and even a riboswitch. In recent years many new structures of TBDTs have been solved in various states, resulting in a more complete picture of siderophore selectivity and binding, signal transduction across the outer membrane, and interaction with TonB-ExbB-ExbD. However, the transport mechanism is still unclear. In this review, we summarize recent progress in understanding regulation, structure and function in TBDTs and questions remaining to be answered.
Keywords: TonB-dependent transporter, outer membrane protein, siderophore, active transport, signal transduction