An allosteric model for transmembrane signaling in bacterial chemotaxis

Christopher V. Rao, Michael Frenklach, Adam P. Arkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacteria are able to sense chemical gradients over a wide range of concentrations. However, calculations based on the known number of receptors do not predict such a range unless receptors interact with one another in a cooperative manner. A number of recent experiments support the notion that this remarkable sensitivity in chemotaxis is mediated by localized interactions or crosstalk between neighboring receptors. A number of simple, elegant models have proposed mechanisms for signal integration within receptor clusters. What is a lacking is a model, based on known molecular mechanisms and our accumulated knowledge of chemotaxis, that integrates data from multiple, heterogeneous sources. To address this question, we propose an allosteric mechanism for transmembrane signaling in bacterial chemotaxis based on the "trimer of dimers" model, where three receptor dimers form a stable complex with CheW and CheA. The mechanism is used to integrate a diverse set of experimental data in a consistent framework. The main predictions are: (1) trimers of receptor dimers form the building blocks for the signaling complexes; (2) receptor methylation increases the stability of the active state and retards the inhibition arising from ligand-bound receptors within the signaling complex; (3) trimer of dimer receptor complexes aggregate into clusters through their mutual interactions with CheA and CheW; (4) cooperativity arises from neighboring interaction within these clusters; and (5) cluster size is determined by the concentration of receptors, CheA, and CheW. The model is able to explain a number of seemingly contradictory experiments in a consistent manner and, in the process, explain how bacteria are able to sense chemical gradients over a wide range of concentrations by demonstrating how signals are integrated within the signaling complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-303
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 15 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Monte Carlo
  • allostery
  • chemotaxis
  • receptor clustering
  • signal transduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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