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J Bacteriol. 2009 Jan;191(1):278-86. doi: 10.1128/JB.01031-08. Epub 2008 Oct 24.

Four VirB6 paralogs and VirB9 are expressed and interact in Ehrlichia chaffeensis-containing vacuoles.

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Department of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, 1925 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1093, USA.


The type IV secretion system is an important virulence factor in several host cell-associated pathogens, as it delivers various bacterial macromolecules to target eukaryotic cells. Genes homologous to several virB genes and virD4 of Agrobacterium tumefaciens are found in an intravacuolar pathogen Ehrlichia chaffeensis, the tick-borne causative agent of human monocytic ehrlichiosis. In particular, despite its small genome size, E. chaffeensis has four tandem virB6 paralogs (virB6-1, -2, -3, and -4) that are 3- to 10-fold larger than A. tumefaciens virB6. The present study for the first time illustrates the relevance of the larger quadruple VirB6 paralogs by demonstrating the protein expression and interaction in E. chaffeensis. All four virB6 paralogs were cotranscribed in THP-1 human leukemia and ISE6 tick cell cultures. The four VirB6 proteins and VirB9 were expressed by E. chaffeensis in THP-1 cells, and amounts of these five proteins were similar in isolated E. chaffeensis-containing vacuoles and vacuole-free E. chaffeensis. In addition, an 80-kDa fragment of VirB6-2 was detected, which was strikingly more prevalent in E. chaffeensis-containing vacuoles than in vacuole-free E. chaffeensis. Coimmunoprecipitation analysis revealed VirB9 interaction with VirB6-1 and VirB6-2; VirB6-4 interaction with VirB6-1, VirB6-2, and VirB6-3; and VirB6-2 80-kDa fragment interaction with VirB6-3 and VirB6-4. The interaction of VirB9 and VirB6-2 was confirmed by far-Western blotting. The results suggest that E. chaffeensis VirB9, the quadruple VirB6 proteins, and the VirB6-2 80-kDa fragment form a unique molecular subassembly to cooperate in type IV secretion.

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