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Mol Microbiol. 2007 Nov;66(4):961-74. Epub 2007 Oct 4.

Housekeeping sortase facilitates the cell wall anchoring of pilus polymers in Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

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Department of Molecular, Microbial, and Structural Biology, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT 06030, USA.


Many surface proteins in Gram-positive bacteria are covalently linked to the cell wall through a transpeptidation reaction catalysed by the enzyme sortase. Corynebacterium diphtheriae encodes six sortases, five of which are devoted to the assembly of three distinct types of pilus fibres--SrtA for the SpaA-type pilus, SrtB/SrtC for the SpaD-type pilus, and SrtD/SrtE for the SpaH-type pilus. We demonstrate here the function of SrtF, the so-called housekeeping sortase, in the cell wall anchoring of pili. We show that a multiple deletion mutant strain expressing only SrtA secretes a large portion of SpaA polymers into the culture medium, with concomitant decrease in the cell wall-linked pili. The same phenotype is observed with the mutant that is missing SrtF alone. By contrast, a strain that expresses only SrtF displays surface-linked pilins but no polymers. Therefore, SrtF can catalyse the cell wall anchoring of pilin monomers as well as pili, but it does not polymerize pilins. We show that SrtA and SrtF together generate wild-type levels of the SpaA-type pilus on the bacterial surface. Furthermore, by regulating the expression of SpaA in the cell, we demonstrate that the SrtF function becomes critical when the SpaA level is sufficiently high. Together, these findings provide key evidence for a two-stage model of pilus assembly: pilins are first polymerized by a pilus-specific sortase, and the resulting fibre is then attached to the cell wall by either the cognate sortase or the housekeeping sortase.

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