The Mla pathway is believed to be involved in maintaining the asymmetrical Gram-negative outer membrane via retrograde phospholipid transport. The pathway is composed of 3 components: the outer membrane MlaA-OmpC/F complex, a soluble periplasmic protein, MlaC, and the inner membrane ATPase, MlaFEDB complex. Here we solve the crystal structure of MlaC in its phospholipid free closed apo conformation, revealing a pivoting β-sheet mechanism which functions to open and close the phospholipid-binding pocket. Using the apo form of MlaC we provide evidence that the inner membrane MlaFEDB machinery exports phospholipids to MlaC in the periplasm. Furthermore we confirm that the phospholipid export process occurs through the MlaD component of the MlaFEDB complex and that this process is independent of ATP. Our data provides evidence of an apparatus for lipid export away from the inner membrane and suggests that the Mla pathway may have a role in anterograde phospholipid transport.
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.