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Mol Membr Biol. 2005 Jan-Apr;22(1-2):51-61.

Structural and dynamic properties of bacterial type IV secretion systems (review).

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, UT-Houston Medical School, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are widely distributed among the gram-negative and -positive bacteria. These systems mediate the transfer of DNA and protein substrates across the cell envelope to bacterial or eukaryotic cells generally through a process requiring direct cell-to-cell contact. Bacteria have evolved T4SS for survival during establishment of pathogenic or symbiotic relationships with eukaryotic hosts. The Agrobacterium tumefaciens VirB/D4 T4SS and related conjugation machines serve as models for detailed mechanistic studies aimed at elucidating the nature of translocation signals, machine assembly pathways and architectures, and the dynamics of substrate translocation. The A. tumefaciens VirB/D4 T4SS are polar-localized organelles composed of a secretion channel and an extracellular T pilus. These T4SS are assembled from 11 or more subunits. whose membrane topologies, intersubunit contacts and, in some cases, 3-dimensional structures are known. Recently, powerful in vivo assays have identified C-terminal translocation signals, defined for the first time the translocation route for a DNA substrate through a type IV secretion channel, and supplied evidence that ATP energy consumption contributes to a late stage of machine morphogenesis. Together, these recent findings describe the mechanics of type IV secretion in unprecedented detail.

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