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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Sep 25;104(39):15508-13. Epub 2007 Sep 14.

Type VI secretion system translocates a phage tail spike-like protein into target cells where it cross-links actin.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, 200 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Genes encoding type VI secretion systems (T6SS) are widely distributed in pathogenic Gram-negative bacterial species. In Vibrio cholerae, T6SS have been found to secrete three related proteins extracellularly, VgrG-1, VgrG-2, and VgrG-3. VgrG-1 can covalently cross-link actin in vitro, and this activity was used to demonstrate that V. cholerae can translocate VgrG-1 into macrophages by a T6SS-dependent mechanism. Protein structure search algorithms predict that VgrG-related proteins likely assemble into a trimeric complex that is analogous to that formed by the two trimeric proteins gp27 and gp5 that make up the baseplate "tail spike" of Escherichia coli bacteriophage T4. VgrG-1 was shown to interact with itself, VgrG-2, and VgrG-3, suggesting that such a complex does form. Because the phage tail spike protein complex acts as a membrane-penetrating structure as well as a conduit for the passage of DNA into phage-infected cells, we propose that the VgrG components of the T6SS apparatus may assemble a "cell-puncturing device" analogous to phage tail spikes to deliver effector protein domains through membranes of target host cells.

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