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Mol Microbiol. 2009 Sep;73(5):950-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06821.x. Epub 2009 Aug 4.

ESX-1 secreted virulence factors are recognized by multiple cytosolic AAA ATPases in pathogenic mycobacteria.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-2200, USA.


The ESX-1 secretion system of Mycobacterium tuberculosis delivers bacterial virulence factors to host cells during infection. The most abundant factor, the ESAT-6/CFP-10 dimer, is targeted for secretion via a C-terminal signal sequence on CFP-10 that is recognized by the cytosolic ATPase, Rv3871. However, the selection determinants for other ESX-1 substrates appear to be more complex. Some substrates, such as ESAT-6, are secreted despite lacking signal sequences. Furthermore, all substrates require targeting of the other ESX-1 secreted proteins, a distinguishing feature of this system. How ESX-1 substrates are selected and the basis for co-dependent secretion is unknown. Here we show that the EspC substrate interacts with Rv3868, a cytosolic AAA ATPase, through its C-terminus. Swapping the C-termini of EspC and CFP-10 revealed that these signals are functionally distinct, suggesting that the proteins are targeted via interactions with different ATPases. Surprisingly, biochemical purification experiments demonstrate that these substrates and ATPases form multi-protein complexes inside the cell and identified a new secreted substrate. By interfering with this protein interaction network, we have partially uncoupled co-dependent substrate secretion. Our results suggest that proper functioning of the ESX-1 pathway requires the interaction of multiple ESX-1 substrates and components prior to their secretion. Ultimately, understanding the details of ESX-1 targeting may allow for engineering of better vaccines to prevent tuberculosis.

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