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Motile bacteria employ conserved chemotaxis networks to detect chemical gradients in their surroundings and effectively regulate their locomotion, enabling the location of essential nutrients and other important biological niches. The sensory apparatus of the chemotaxis pathway is an array of core-signaling units (CSUs) composed of transmembrane chemoreceptors, the histidine kinase CheA and an adaptor protein, CheW. Although chemotaxis pathways represent the best understood signaling systems, a detailed mechanistic understanding of signal transduction has been hindered by the lack of a complete structural picture of the CSU and extended array. In this study, we present the structure of the complete CSU from phage φX174 E protein lysed Escherichia coli cells, determined using cryo-electron tomography and sub-tomogram averaging to 12-Å resolution. Using AlphaFold2, we further predict the atomic structures of the CSU's constituent proteins as well as key protein-protein interfaces, enabling the assembly an all-atom CSU model, which we conformationally refine using our cryo-electron tomography map. Molecular dynamics simulations of the resulting model provide new insight into the periplasmic organization of the complex, including novel interactions between neighboring receptor ligand-binding domains. Our results further elucidate previously unresolved interactions between individual CheA domains, including an anti-parallel P1 dimer and non-productive binding mode between P1 and P4, enhancing our understanding of the structural mechanisms underlying CheA signaling and regulation. IMPORTANCE Bacterial chemotaxis is a ubiquitous behavior that enables cell movement toward or away from specific chemicals. It serves as an important model for understanding cell sensory signal transduction and motility. Characterization of the molecular mechanisms underlying chemotaxis is of fundamental interest and requires a high-resolution structural picture of the sensing machinery, the chemosensory array. In this study, we combine cryo-electron tomography and molecular simulation to present the complete structure of the core signaling unit, the basic building block of chemosensory arrays, from Escherichia coli. Our results provide new insight into previously poorly-resolved regions of the complex and offer a structural basis for designing new experiments to test mechanistic hypotheses.

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Diamond Light Source , Didcot, United Kingdom.