Send to

Choose Destination
J Vis Exp. 2013 Mar 20;(73):e50103. doi: 10.3791/50103.

A visual assay to monitor T6SS-mediated bacterial competition.

Author information

MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection, Division of Cell and Molecular Biology, Imperial College London.


Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells(1,2). The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages(3). The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively(4,5). The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain(6,7). Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment(8,9,10). In the latter case, three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins(8,9,10). This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species(8,11,12,13). The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes(14), a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for MyJove Corporation Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center