Cytochrome c maturation (Ccm) is a post-translational and post-export protein modification process that involves ten (CcmABCDEFGHI and CcdA or DsbD) components in most Gram-negative bacteria. The absence of any of these components abolishes the ability of cells to form cytochrome c, leading in the case of Rhodobacter capsulatus to the loss of photosynthetic proficiency and respiratory cytochrome oxidase activity. Based on earlier molecular genetic studies, we inferred that R. capsulatus CcmF, CcmH, and CcmI interact with each other to perform heme-apocytochrome c ligation. Here, using functional epitope-tagged derivatives of these components coproduced in appropriate mutant strains, we determined protein-protein interactions between them in detergent-dispersed membranes. Reciprocal affinity purification as well as tandem size exclusion and affinity chromatography analyses provided the first biochemical evidence that CcmF, CcmH, and CcmI associate stably with each other, indicating that these Ccm components form a membrane-integral complex. Under the conditions used, the CcmFHI complex does not contain CcmG, suggesting that the latter thio-reduction component is not always associated with the heme ligation components. The findings are discussed with respect to defining the obligatory components of a minimalistic heme-apocytochrome c ligation complex in R. capsulatus.
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