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Curr Opin Microbiol. 2009 Jun;12(3):326-32. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2009.03.002. Epub 2009 Apr 6.

Use of a combined cryo-EM and X-ray crystallography approach to reveal molecular details of bacterial pilus assembly by the chaperone/usher pathway.

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  • 1Biology Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973, USA.


Many bacteria assemble hair-like fibers termed pili or fimbriae on their cell surface. These fibers mediate adhesion to various surfaces, including host cells, and play crucial roles in pathogenesis. Pili are polymers composed of thousands of individual subunit proteins. Understanding how these subunit proteins cross the bacterial envelope and correctly assemble at the cell surface is important not only for basic biology but also for the development of novel antimicrobial agents. The chaperone/usher pilus biogenesis pathway is one of the best-understood protein secretion systems, thanks largely to innovative efforts in biophysical techniques such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy. Such a combined approach holds promise for further elucidating remaining questions regarding the multi-step and highly dynamic pilus assembly process, as well as for studying other protein secretion and organelle biogenesis systems.

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