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J Bacteriol. 2010 Apr;192(7):1912-20. doi: 10.1128/JB.01357-09. Epub 2010 Feb 5.

Increased expression of the type IV secretion system in piliated Neisseria gonorrhoeae variants.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Neisseria gonorrhoeae produces a type IV secretion system that secretes chromosomal DNA. The secreted DNA is active in the transformation of other gonococci in the population and may act to transfer antibiotic resistance genes and variant alleles for surface antigens, as well as other genes. We observed that gonococcal variants that produced type IV pili secreted more DNA than variants that were nonpiliated, suggesting that the process may be regulated. Using microarray analysis, we found that a piliated strain showed increased expression of the gene for the putative type IV secretion coupling protein TraD, whereas a nonpiliated variant showed increased expression of genes for transcriptional and translational machinery, consistent with its higher growth rate compared to that of the piliated strain. These results suggested that type IV secretion might be controlled by either traD expression or growth rate. A mutant with a deletion in traD was found to be deficient in DNA secretion. Further mutation and complementation analysis indicated that traD is transcriptionally and translationally coupled to traI, which encodes the type IV secretion relaxase. We were able to increase DNA secretion in a nonpiliated strain by inserting a gene cassette with a strong promoter to drive the expression of the putative operon containing traI and traD. Together, these data suggest a model in which the type IV secretion system apparatus is made constitutively, while its activity is controlled through regulation of traD and traI.

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