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Mol Microbiol. 2009 Jun;72(6):1379-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06727.x. Epub 2009 May 8.

Linkage of T3 and Cpa pilins in the Streptococcus pyogenes M3 pilus.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


The important human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus, GAS) initiates infection by pilus-mediated attachment to host tissue. Thus, the pilus is an excellent target for design of anti-infective strategies. The T3 pilus of GAS is composed of multiple covalently linked subunits of the T3 protein to which the two minor pilins, Cpa and OrfB, are covalently attached. Because the proteins of GAS pili do not contain either of the motifs required for pilus polymerization in other Gram-positive bacteria, we investigated the residues involved in their linkage. We show that linkage of Cpa to T3 by the sortase family transpeptidase SrtC2 requires the VPPTG motif in the cell wall-sorting signal of Cpa. We also demonstrate that K173 of T3 is required both for T3 polymerization and for attachment of Cpa to T3. Therefore, attachment of Cpa to K173 of a T3 subunit would block further addition of T3 subunits to this end of the growing pilus. This implies that Cpa is located exclusively at the pilus tip, a location supported by immunogold electron microscopy, and suggests that, as for well-studied pili on Gram-negative bacteria, the role of the pilus is to present the adhesin external to the bacterial capsule.

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