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J Bacteriol. 2010 Oct;192(19):4923-34. doi: 10.1128/JB.00557-10. Epub 2010 Jul 23.

Evidence for VirB4-mediated dislocation of membrane-integrated VirB2 pilin during biogenesis of the Agrobacterium VirB/VirD4 type IV secretion system.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 6431 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Agrobacterium VirB2 pilin is required for assembly of the VirB/VirD4 type IV secretion system (T4SS). The propilin is processed by signal sequence cleavage and covalent linkage of the N and C termini, and the cyclized pilin integrates into the inner membrane (IM) as a pool for assembly of the secretion channel and T pilus. Here, by use of the substituted cysteine accessibility method (SCAM), we defined the VirB2 IM topology and then identified distinct contributions of the T4SS ATPase subunits to the pilin structural organization. Labeling patterns of Cys-substituted pilins exposed to the membrane-impermeative, thiol-reactive reagent 3-(N-maleimidopropionyl)biocytin (MPB) supported a topology model in which two hydrophobic stretches comprise transmembrane domains, an intervening hydrophilic loop (residues 90 to 94) is cytoplasmic, and the hydrophilic N and C termini joined at residues 48 and 121 form a periplasmic loop. Interestingly, the VirB4 ATPase, but not a Walker A nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) binding motif mutant, induced (i) MPB labeling of Cys94, a residue that in the absence of the ATPase is located in the cytoplasmic loop, and (ii) release of pilin from the IM upon osmotic shock. These findings, coupled with evidence for VirB2-VirB4 complex formation by coimmunoprecipitation, support a model in which VirB4 functions as a dislocation motor to extract pilins from the IM during T4SS biogenesis. The VirB11 ATPase functioned together with VirB4 to induce a structural change in the pilin that was detectable by MPB labeling, suggestive of a role for VirB11 as a modulator of VirB4 dislocase activity.

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