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J Mol Biol. 2009 Nov 20;394(1):143-59. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2009.09.037.

Periplasmic domains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PilN and PilO form a stable heterodimeric complex.

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Program in Molecular Structure and Function, Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8.


Type IV pili (T4P) are bacterial virulence factors responsible for attachment to surfaces and for twitching motility, a motion that involves a succession of pilus extension and retraction cycles. In the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the PilM/N/O/P proteins are essential for T4P biogenesis, and genetic and biochemical analyses strongly suggest that they form an inner-membrane complex. Here, we show through co-expression and biochemical analysis that the periplasmic domains of PilN and PilO interact to form a heterodimer. The structure of residues 69-201 of the periplasmic domain of PilO was determined to 2.2 A resolution and reveals the presence of a homodimer in the asymmetric unit. Each monomer consists of two N-terminal coiled coils and a C-terminal ferredoxin-like domain. This structure was used to generate homology models of PilN and the PilN/O heterodimer. Our structural analysis suggests that in vivo PilN/O heterodimerization would require changes in the orientation of the first N-terminal coiled coil, which leads to two alternative models for the role of the transmembrane domains in the PilN/O interaction. Analysis of PilN/O orthologues in the type II secretion system EpsL/M revealed significant similarities in their secondary structures and the tertiary structures of PilO and EpsM, although the way these proteins interact to form inner-membrane complexes appears to be different in T4P and type II secretion. Our analysis suggests that PilN interacts directly, via its N-terminal tail, with the cytoplasmic protein PilM. This work shows a direct interaction between the periplasmic domains of PilN and PilO, with PilO playing a key role in the proper folding of PilN. Our results suggest that PilN/O heterodimers form the foundation of the inner-membrane PilM/N/O/P complex, which is critical for the assembly of a functional T4P complex.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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