Nat. Commun. 2017, in press
Secreted exopolysaccharides present important determinants for bacterial biofilm formation, survival and virulence. Cellulose secretion typically requires the concerted action of a c-di-GMP-responsive inner membrane synthase (BcsA), an accessory membrane-anchored protein (BcsB) and several additional Bcs components. Whereas the BcsAB catalytic duo has been studied in great detail, its interplay with co-expressed subunits remains enigmatic. Here we show that E. coli Bcs proteins partake in a complex protein interaction network. Electron microscopy reveals a stable, megadalton-sized macromolecular assembly, which encompasses most of the inner-membrane and cytosolic Bcs components and features a previously unobserved asymmetric architecture. Heterologous reconstitution and mutational analyses point toward a structure-function model, where accessory proteins regulate secretion by affecting both the assembly and stability of the system. Together, these results lay the foundation for more comprehensive models of synthase-dependent exopolysaccharide secretion in biofilms and add a sophisticated secretory nanomachine to the diverse bacterial arsenal for virulence and adaptation.