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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jul 26;102(30):10676-81. Epub 2005 Jul 19.

Mutually dependent secretion of proteins required for mycobacterial virulence.

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  • 1Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA. sfortune@hsph.harvard.edu


The ESX-1 locus is a region critical for full virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which encodes two secreted proteins as well as other genes involved in their secretion. The mechanism of secretion of the two proteins, ESAT-6 and CFP-10, and their function remain unknown. Using proteomic methods to search for additional proteins secreted by the ESX-1 locus, we discovered that a protein encoded by a chromosomally unlinked gene, espA, is also secreted by strains that contain the ESX-1 locus but not by strains with ESX-1 deletions. Mutations in individual ESX-1 genes, including those that encode ESAT-6 and CFP-10, were found to block EspA secretion. Surprisingly, mutants that lack espA reciprocally failed to secrete ESAT-6 and CFP-10 and were as attenuated as ESX-1 mutants in virulence assays. The results indicate that secretion of these proteins, which are each critical for virulence of pathogenic mycobacteria, is mutually dependent. The results further suggest that discerning the nature of the interaction and the structure of macromolecular complexes will provide insights into both an alternative mechanism of protein secretion and mycobacterial virulence.

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