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J Bacteriol. 2003 Apr;185(8):2611-7.

Three-dimensional structure of the Neisseria meningitidis secretin PilQ determined from negative-stain transmission electron microscopy.

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Department of Biomolecular Sciences, UMIST, Manchester M60 1QD, United Kingdom.


The PilQ secretin from the pathogenic bacterium Neisseria meningitidis is an integral outer membrane protein complex which plays a crucial role in the biogenesis of type IV pili. We present here the first three-dimensional structure of this type of secretin at 2.5-nm resolution, obtained by single-particle averaging methods applied to the purified protein complex visualized in a negative stain. In projection, the PilQ complex is circular, with a donut-like appearance. When viewed from the side it has a rounded, conical profile. The complex was demonstrated to have 12-fold rotational symmetry, and this property was used to improve the quality of the density map by symmetry averaging. The dominant feature of the structure is a cavity, 10 nm deep, within the center of the molecule. The cavity is funnel-shaped in cross section, measures 6.5 nm in diameter at the top of the complex, and tapers to a closed point, effectively blocking formation of a continuous pore through the PilQ complex. These results suggest that the complex would have to undergo a conformational change in order to accommodate an assembled pilus fiber of diameter 6.5 nm running through the outer membrane.

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