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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2004 Nov 11;1694(1-3):219-34.

Type IV secretion: the Agrobacterium VirB/D4 and related conjugation systems.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, UT-Houston Medical School, 6431 Fannin, JFB1.765, Houston TX 77030, USA. <>


The translocation of DNA across biological membranes is an essential process for many living organisms. In bacteria, type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are used to deliver DNA as well as protein substrates from donor to target cells. The T4SS are structurally complex machines assembled from a dozen or more membrane proteins in response to environmental signals. In Gram-negative bacteria, the conjugation machines are composed of a cell envelope-spanning secretion channel and an extracellular pilus. These dynamic structures (i) direct formation of stable contacts-the mating junction-between donor and recipient cell membranes, (ii) transmit single-stranded DNA as a nucleoprotein particle, as well as protein substrates, across donor and recipient cell membranes, and (iii) mediate disassembly of the mating junction following substrate transfer. This review summarizes recent progress in our understanding of the mechanistic details of DNA trafficking with a focus on the paradigmatic Agrobacterium tumefaciens VirB/D4 T4SS and related conjugation systems.

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