The mechanisms by which hydrophobic molecules, such as long-chain fatty acids, enter cells are poorly understood. In Gram-negative bacteria, the lipopolysaccharide layer in the outer membrane is an efficient barrier for fatty acids and aromatic hydrocarbons destined for biodegradation. We report crystal structures of the long-chain fatty acid transporter FadL from Escherichia coli at 2.6 and 2.8 angstrom resolution.. FadL forms a 14-stranded β barrel that is occluded by a central hatch domain. The structures suggest, that hydrophobic compounds bind to multiple sites in FadL and use a transport mechanism that involves spontaneous conformational changes in the hatch.
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