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PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(5):e1003393. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003393. Epub 2013 May 30.

Identification of a functional type VI secretion system in Campylobacter jejuni conferring capsule polysaccharide sensitive cytotoxicity.

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Department of Infectious Diseases & Immunology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands.


The pathogen Campylobacter jejuni is the principal cause of bacterial food-borne infections. The mechanism(s) that contribute to bacterial survival and disease are still poorly understood. In other bacterial species, type VI secretion systems (T6SS) are increasingly recognized to contribute to bacterial pathogenesis by toxic effects on host cells or competing bacterial species. Here we report the presence of a functional Type VI secretion system in C. jejuni. Proteome and genetic analyses revealed that C. jejuni strain 108 contains a 17-kb T6SS gene cluster consisting of 13 T6SS-conserved genes, including the T6SS hallmark genes hcp and vgrG. The cluster lacks an ortholog of the ClpV ATPase considered important for T6SS function. The sequence and organization of the C. jejuni T6SS genes resemble those of the T6SS located on the HHGI1 pathogenicity island of Helicobacter hepaticus. The C. jejuni T6SS is integrated into the earlier acquired Campylobacter integrated element CJIE3 and is present in about 10% of C. jejuni isolates including several isolates derived from patients with the rare clinical feature of C. jejuni bacteremia. Targeted mutagenesis of C. jejuni T6SS genes revealed T6SS-dependent secretion of the Hcp needle protein into the culture supernatant. Infection assays provided evidence that the C. jejuni T6SS confers contact-dependent cytotoxicity towards red blood cells but not macrophages. This trait was observed only in a capsule-deficient bacterial phenotype. The unique C. jejuni T6SS phenotype of capsule-sensitive contact-mediated hemolysis represents a novel evolutionary pathway of T6SS in bacteria and expands the repertoire of virulence properties associated with T6SS.

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