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Cell Microbiol. 2001 Sep;3(9):633-47.

Actin-based motility is sufficient for bacterial membrane protrusion formation and host cell uptake.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, 279 West Campus Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-5307, USA.


Shigella flexneri replicates in the cytoplasm of host cells, where it nucleates host cell actin filaments at one pole of the bacterial cell to form a 'comet tail' that propels the bacterium through the host's cytoplasm. To determine whether the ability to move by actin-based motility is sufficient for subsequent formation of membrane-bound protrusions and intercellular spread, we conferred the ability to nucleate actin on a heterologous bacterium, Escherichia coli. Previous work has shown that IcsA (VirG), the molecule that is necessary and sufficient for actin nucleation and actin-based motility, is distributed in a unipolar fashion on the surface of S. flexneri. Maintenance of the unipolar distribution of IcsA depends on both the S. flexneri outer membrane protease IcsP (SopA) and the structure of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the outer membrane. We co-expressed IcsA and IcsP in two strains of E. coli that differed in their LPS structures. The E. coli were engineered to invade host cells by expression of invasin from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and to escape the phagosome by incubation in purified listeriolysin O (LLO) from Listeria monocytogenes. All E. coli strains expressing IcsA replicated in host cell cytoplasm and moved by actin-based motility. Actin-based motility alone was sufficient for the formation of membrane protrusions and uptake by recipient host cells. The presence of IcsP and an elaborate LPS structure combined to enhance the ability of E. coli to form protrusions at the same frequency as S. flexneri, quantitatively reconstituting this step in pathogen intercellular spread in a heterologous organism. The frequency of membrane protrusion formation across all strains tested correlates with the efficiency of unidirectional actin-based movement, but not with bacterial speed.

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