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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Oct 5;370(1679). pii: 20150021. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0021.

Type VI secretion system: secretion by a contractile nanomachine.

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Focal Area Infection Biology, Biozentrum, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland


The type VI secretion systems (T6SS) are present in about a quarter of all Gram-negative bacteria. Several key components of T6SS are evolutionarily related to components of contractile nanomachines such as phages and R-type pyocins. The T6SS assembly is initiated by formation of a membrane complex that binds a phage-like baseplate with a sharp spike, and this is followed by polymerization of a long rigid inner tube and an outer contractile sheath. Effectors are preloaded onto the spike or into the tube during the assembly by various mechanisms. Contraction of the sheath releases an unprecedented amount of energy, which is used to thrust the spike and tube with the associated effectors out of the effector cell and across membranes of both bacterial and eukaryotic target cells. Subunits of the contracted sheath are recycled by T6SS-specific unfoldase to allow for a new round of assembly. Live-cell imaging has shown that the assembly is highly dynamic and its subcellular localization is in certain bacteria regulated with a remarkable precision. Through the action of effectors, T6SS has mainly been shown to contribute to pathogenicity and competition between bacteria. This review summarizes the knowledge that has contributed to our current understanding of T6SS mode of action.


contractile phage tail; dynamics; effectors; energetics; structure; type VI secretion system

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