Conjugation is fundamental for the acquisition of new genetic traits and the development of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic organisms. Here, we show that a hypothetical Clostridium perfringens protein, TcpK, which is encoded by the tetracycline resistance plasmid pCW3, is essential for efficient conjugative DNA transfer. Our studies reveal that TcpK is a member of the winged helix-turn-helix (wHTH) transcription factor superfamily and that it forms a dimer in solution. Furthermore, TcpK specifically binds to a nine-nucleotide sequence that is present as tandem repeats within the pCW3 origin of transfer (oriT). The X-ray crystal structure of the TcpK–TcpK box complex reveals a binding mode centered on and around the β-wing, which is different from what has been previously shown for other wHTH proteins. Structure-guided mutagenesis experiments validate the specific interaction between TcpK and the DNA molecule. Additional studies highlight that the TcpK dimer is important for specific DNA binding.
- bacterial genetics
- x-ray crystallography