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Infect Immun. 2010 Jun;78(6):2429-37. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00228-10. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

Type IV secretion machinery promotes ton-independent intracellular survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae within cervical epithelial cells.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University,Richmond, Virginia 23298, USA.


Survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae within host epithelial cells is expected to be important in the pathogenesis of gonococcal disease. We previously demonstrated that strain FA1090 derives iron from a host cell in a process that requires the Ton complex and a putative TonB-dependent transporter, TdfF. FA1090, however, lacks the gonococcal genetic island (GGI) that is present in the majority of strains. The GGI in strain MS11 has been partially characterized, and it encodes a type IV secretion system (T4SS) involved in DNA release. In this study we investigated the role of iron acquisition and GGI-encoded gene products in gonococcal survival within cervical epithelial cells. We demonstrated that intracellular survival of MS11 was dependent on acquisition of iron from the host cell, but unlike the findings for FA1090, expression of the Ton complex was not required. Survival was not dependent on a putative TonB-like protein encoded in the GGI but instead was directly linked to T4SS structural components in a manner independent of the ability to release or internalize DNA. These data suggest that expression of selected GGI-encoded open reading frames confers an advantage during cervical cell infection. This study provides the first link between expression of the T4SS apparatus and intracellular survival of gonococci.

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