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Bacteriocins are a diverse group of ribosomally synthesized protein antibiotics produced by most bacteria. They range from small lanthipeptides produced by lactic acid bacteria to much larger multi domain proteins of Gram negative bacteria such as the colicins from Escherichia coli. For activity bacteriocins must be released from the producing cell and then bind to the surface of a sensitive cell to instigate the import process leading to cell death. For over 50years, colicins have provided a working platform for elucidating the structure/function studies of bacteriocin import and modes of action. An understanding of the processes that contribute to the delivery of a colicin molecule across two lipid membranes of the cell envelope has advanced our knowledge of protein-protein interactions (PPI), protein-lipid interactions and the role of order-disorder transitions of protein domains pertinent to protein transport. In this review, we provide an overview of the arrangement of genes that controls the synthesis and release of the mature protein. We examine the uptake processes of colicins from initial binding and sequestration of binding partners to crossing of the outer membrane, and then discuss the translocation of colicins through the cell periplasm and across the inner membrane to their cytotoxic site of action. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Protein trafficking and secretion in bacteria. Guest Editors: Anastassios Economou and Ross Dalbey.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochimica et biophysica acta

Publication Date





1717 - 1731


School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK.


Cell Membrane, Periplasm, Escherichia coli, Periplasmic Proteins, Bacteriocins, Colicins, Membrane Proteins, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Structure-Activity Relationship, Protein Transport