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J Biol Chem. 2005 Dec 30;280(52):42929-37. Epub 2005 Oct 14.

The needle component of the type III secreton of Shigella regulates the activity of the secretion apparatus.

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Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RE, United Kingdom.


Gram-negative bacteria commonly interact with eukaryotic host cells by using type III secretion systems (TTSSs or secretons). TTSSs serve to transfer bacterial proteins into host cells. Two translocators, IpaB and IpaC, are first inserted with the aid of IpaD by Shigella into the host cell membrane. Then at least two supplementary effectors of cell invasion, IpaA and IpgD, are transferred into the host cytoplasm. How TTSSs are induced to secrete is unknown, but their activation appears to require direct contact of the external distal tip of the apparatus with the host cell. The extracellular domain of the TTSS is a hollow needle protruding 60 nm beyond the bacterial surface. The monomeric unit of the Shigella flexneri needle, MxiH, forms a superhelical assembly. To probe the role of the needle in the activation of the TTSS for secretion, we examined the structure-function relationship of MxiH by mutagenesis. Most point mutations led to normal needle assembly, but some led to polymerization or possible length control defects. In other mutants, secretion was constitutively turned "on." In a further set, it was "constitutively on" but experimentally "uninducible." Finally, upon induction of secretion, some mutants released only the translocators and not the effectors. Most types of mutants were defective in interactions with host cells. Together, these data indicate that the needle directly controls the activity of the TTSS and suggest that it may be used to "sense" host cells.

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