The major class of integral proteins found in the outer membrane (OM) of E. coli and Salmonella adopt a β-barrel conformation (OMPs). OMPs are synthesized in the cytoplasm with a typical signal sequence at the amino terminus, which directs them to the secretion machinery (SecYEG) located in the inner membrane for translocation to the periplasm. Chaperones such as SurA, or DegP and Skp, escort these proteins across the aqueous periplasm protecting them from aggregation. The chaperones then deliver OMPs to a highly conserved outer membrane assembly site termed the Bam complex. In E. coli, the Bam complex is composed of an essential OMP, BamA, and four associated OM lipoproteins, BamBCDE, one of which, BamD, is also essential. Here we provide an overview of what we know about the process of OMP assembly and outline the various hypotheses that have been proposed to explain how proteins might be integrated into the asymmetric OM lipid bilayer in an environment that lacks obvious energy sources. In addition, we describe the envelope stress responses that ensure the fidelity of OM biogenesis and how factors, such as phage and certain toxins, have coopted this essential machine to gain entry into the cell.
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