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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2013 Oct;12(10):2735-49. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M113.030502. Epub 2013 Jul 9.

Proteomic identification of novel secreted antibacterial toxins of the Serratia marcescens type VI secretion system.

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Division of Molecular Microbiology and.


It has recently become apparent that the Type VI secretion system (T6SS) is a complex macromolecular machine used by many bacterial species to inject effector proteins into eukaryotic or bacterial cells, with significant implications for virulence and interbacterial competition. "Antibacterial" T6SSs, such as the one elaborated by the opportunistic human pathogen, Serratia marcescens, confer on the secreting bacterium the ability to rapidly and efficiently kill rival bacteria. Identification of secreted substrates of the T6SS is critical to understanding its role and ability to kill other cells, but only a limited number of effectors have been reported so far. Here we report the successful use of label-free quantitative mass spectrometry to identify at least eleven substrates of the S. marcescens T6SS, including four novel effector proteins which are distinct from other T6SS-secreted proteins reported to date. These new effectors were confirmed as antibacterial toxins and self-protecting immunity proteins able to neutralize their cognate toxins were identified. The global secretomic study also unexpectedly revealed that protein phosphorylation-based post-translational regulation of the S. marcescens T6SS differs from that of the paradigm, H1-T6SS of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Combined phosphoproteomic and genetic analyses demonstrated that conserved PpkA-dependent threonine phosphorylation of the T6SS structural component Fha is required for T6SS activation in S. marcescens and that the phosphatase PppA can reverse this modification. However, the signal and mechanism of PpkA activation is distinct from that observed previously and does not appear to require cell-cell contact. Hence this study has not only demonstrated that new and species-specific portfolios of antibacterial effectors are secreted by the T6SS, but also shown for the first time that PpkA-dependent post-translational regulation of the T6SS is tailored to fit the needs of different bacterial species.

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