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Mol Microbiol. 2004 Oct;54(2):561-74.

Symbiotic phenotypes and translocated effector proteins of the Mesorhizobium loti strain R7A VirB/D4 type IV secretion system.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The symbiosis island of Mesorhizobium loti strain R7A contains genes with strong similarity to the structural vir genes (virB1-11; virD4) of Agrobacterium tumefaciens that encode the type IV secretion system (T4SS) required for T-DNA transfer to plants. In contrast, M. loti strain MAFF303099 lacks these genes but contains genes not present in strain R7A that encode a type III secretion system (T3SS). Here we show by hybridization analysis that most M. loti strains contain the VirB/D4 T4SS and not the T3SS. Strikingly, strain R7A vir gene mutants formed large nodules containing bacteroids on Leucaena leucocephala in contrast to the wild-type strain that formed only uninfected tumour-like structures. A rhcJ T3SS mutant of strain MAFF303099 also nodulated L. leucocephala, unlike the wild type. On Lotus corniculatus, the vir mutants were delayed in nodulation and were less competitive compared with the wild type. Two strain R7A genes, msi059 and msi061, were identified through their mutant phenotypes as possibly encoding translocated effector proteins. Both Msi059 and Msi061 were translocated through the A. tumefaciens VirB/D4 system into Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Arabidopsis thaliana, as shown using the Cre recombinase Reporter Assay for Translocation (CRAfT). Taken together, these results suggest that the VirB/D4 T4SS of M. loti R7A plays an analogous symbiotic role to that of T3SS found in other rhizobia. The heterologous translocation of rhizobial proteins by the Agrobacterium VirB/D4 T4SS is the first demonstration that rhizobial effector proteins are translocated into plant cells and confirms functional conservation between the M. loti and A. tumefaciens T4SS.

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