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EcoSal Plus. 2004 Dec;1(1). doi: 10.1128/ecosalplus.2.2.3.

The Cytology of Bacterial Conjugation.


This review focuses on the membrane-associated structures present at cell-cell contact sites during bacterial conjugation. These transfer proteins/structures have roles in the formation and stabilization of mating contacts and ultimately the passage of substrate across the cell envelope between two bacterial cells. The review presents evidence for the dynamic interaction between donor and recipient cells, including the assembly of a transmembrane protein complex, and concludes with a refined model for the mechanism of bacterial conjugation. Bacterial conjugation, in addition to being a mechanism for genome evolution, can be considered as a mechanism for macromolecular secretion. In particular, plasmid-conjugative transfer is classified as a type IV secretion (T4S) system and represents the only known bacterial system for secretion of DNA. In all known conjugative transfer systems, a multitude of proteins are required for both plasmid transfer and pilus production. The plasmids discussed in the review include the F factor; the P group of plasmids, including RP4 and R751 (rigid); and the H plasmid group, including R27 (also thick flexible). With the LacI-GFP/lacO system, the F, P, and H plasmids were observed to reside at well-defined positions located at the mid and quarter-cell positions of Escherichia coli throughout the vegetative cycle. In this review, recent observations based on bacterial cell biology techniques, including visualization of plasmid DNA and proteins at the subcellular level, have been combined with electron and light microscopy studies of mating cells to create an integrated overview of gram-negative bacterial conjugation, a concept referred to as the conjugative cycle.


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