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J Biol Chem. 2011 Dec 23;286(51):43601-10. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.264028. Epub 2011 Oct 17.

Processing and maturation of the pilin of the type IV secretion system encoded within the gonococcal genetic island.

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Department of Microbiology, Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute, University of Groningen, Nijenborg 7, 9747 AG Groningen, The Netherlands.


The type IV secretion system (T4SS) encoded within the gonococcal genetic island (GGI) of Neisseria gonorrhoeae has homology to the T4SS encoded on the F plasmid. The GGI encodes the putative pilin protein TraA and a serine protease TrbI, which is homologous to the TraF protein of the RP4 plasmid involved in circularization of pilin subunits of P-type pili. TraA was processed to a 68-amino acid long circular peptide by leader peptidase and TrbI. Processing occurred after co-translational membrane insertion and was independent of other proteins. Circularization occurred after removal of three C-terminal amino acids. Mutational analysis of TraA revealed limited flexibility at the cleavage and joining sites. Mutagenesis of TrbI showed that the conserved Lys-93 and Asp-155 are essential, whereas mutagenesis of Ser-52, the putative catalytic serine did not influence circularization. Further mutagenesis of other serine residues did not identify a catalytic serine, indicating that TrbI either contains redundant catalytic serine residues or does not function via a serine-lysine dyad mechanism. In vitro studies revealed that circularization occurs via a covalent intermediate between the C terminus of TraA and TrbI. The intermediate is processed to the circular form after cleavage of the N-terminal signal sequence. This is the first demonstration of a covalent intermediate in the circularization mechanism of conjugative pili.

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