Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
The general secretion pathway (GSP), found in a wide range of bacteria, is responsible for extracellular targeting of a subset of proteins from the periplasm. In Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the GSP requires the participation of 12 proteins, of which XcpT, XcpU, XcpV, XcpW are homologues of PilA, the major subunit of type IV pili. The interaction between the pilin-like Xcp proteins was investigated using bifunctional cross-linking reagents. Cross-linking analysis of whole cells of wild-type P. aeruginosa, followed by immunoblot analysis, revealed a 34-kDa XcpT-containing complex. This complex was shown to consist of XcpT/PilA heterodimers. The role of PilA in the GSP was examined, using P. aeruginosa mutants in the pilA gene, or in rpoN, a gene regulating pilA expression. Each mutant showed a significant reduction in the efficiency of extracellular protein secretion, and this defect could be restored by expression of the cloned pilA gene in the mutant cells. The formation of the PilA/XcpT complex did not require XcpR or XcpQ, two other components of the secretion machinery, nor did it require the pilus biogenesis factors PilB and PilC. The dimeric XcpT/PilA complex was also formed in a pilD mutant, which lacks the leader peptidase enzyme, demonstrating that the leader peptide at the N-terminus of PilA or XcpT did not have to be removed for the dimerization to occur. XcpW and XcpU can also be cross-linked to form dimeric complexes with PilA. When expression of XcpT is increased, its homodimers, as well as XcpT/XcpW heterodimers, can be detected. Finally, an oligohistidine-tagged XcpT was shown to form stoichiometric complexes with PilA, and with XcpT, U, V and W. These dimers were co-purified by nickel-affinity chromatography. The results of this study suggest that XcpT can form heterodimers with PilA, and Xcp U, V and W, which may be assembly intermediates of the secretion apparatus. Alternatively, these may represent dynamic intermediates that facilitate protein secretion by continuous association and dissociation. The requirement for PilA for efficient protein secretion argues for a critical role played by PilA in two related processes during P. aeruginosa infections: formation of an adhesive pilus organelle and secretion of exoenzymes.
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