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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2003 Jul 15;224(1):1-15.

F factor conjugation is a true type IV secretion system.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2E9.


The F sex factor of Escherichia coli is a paradigm for bacterial conjugation and its transfer (tra) region represents a subset of the type IV secretion system (T4SS) family. The F tra region encodes eight of the 10 highly conserved (core) gene products of T4SS including TraAF (pilin), the TraBF, -KF (secretin-like), -VF (lipoprotein) and TraCF (NTPase), -EF, -LF and TraGF (N-terminal region) which correspond to TrbCP, -IP, -GP, -HP, -EP, -JP, DP and TrbLP, respectively, of the P-type T4SS exemplified by the IncP plasmid RP4. F lacks homologs of TrbBP (NTPase) and TrbFP but contains a cluster of genes encoding proteins essential for F conjugation (TraFF, -HF, -UF, -WF, the C-terminal region of TraGF, and TrbCF) that are hallmarks of F-like T4SS. These extra genes have been implicated in phenotypes that are characteristic of F-like systems including pilus retraction and mating pair stabilization. F-like T4SS systems have been found on many conjugative plasmids and in genetic islands on bacterial chromosomes. Although few systems have been studied in detail, F-like T4SS appear to be involved in the transfer of DNA only whereas P- and I-type systems appear to transport protein or nucleoprotein complexes. This review examines the similarities and differences among the T4SS, especially F- and P-like systems, and summarizes the properties of the F transfer region gene products.

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