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J Bacteriol. 2013 Jul;195(14):3269-76. doi: 10.1128/JB.00180-13. Epub 2013 May 17.

Refining the plasmid-encoded type IV secretion system substrate repertoire of Coxiella burnetii.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR, USA.


The intracellular bacterial agent of Q fever, Coxiella burnetii, translocates effector proteins into its host cell cytosol via a Dot/Icm type IV secretion system (T4SS). The T4SS is essential for parasitophorous vacuole formation, intracellular replication, and inhibition of host cell death, but the effectors mediating these events remain largely undefined. Six Dot/Icm substrate-encoding genes were recently discovered on the C. burnetii cryptic QpH1 plasmid, three of which are conserved among all C. burnetii isolates, suggesting that they are critical for conserved pathogen functions. However, the remaining hypothetical proteins encoded by plasmid genes have not been assessed for their potential as T4SS substrates. In the current study, we further defined the T4SS effector repertoire encoded by the C. burnetii QpH1, QpRS, and QpDG plasmids that were originally isolated from acute-disease, chronic-disease, and severely attenuated isolates, respectively. Hypothetical proteins, including those specific to QpRS or QpDG, were screened for translocation using the well-established Legionella pneumophila T4SS secretion model. In total, six novel plasmid-encoded proteins were translocated into macrophage-like cells by the Dot/Icm T4SS. Four newly identified effectors are encoded by genes present only on the QpDG plasmid from severely attenuated Dugway isolates, suggesting that the presence of specific effectors correlates with decreased virulence. These results further support the idea of a critical role for extrachromosomal elements in C. burnetii pathogenesis.

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