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FEBS Open Bio. 2018 Nov 26;9(1):4-17. doi: 10.1002/2211-5463.12548. eCollection 2019 Jan.

The traffic ATPase PilF interacts with the inner membrane platform of the DNA translocator and type IV pili from Thermus thermophilus.

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Molecular Microbiology & Bioenergetics Institute of Molecular Biosciences Goethe University Frankfurt Germany.
Present address: Structural Studies Division Medical Research Council - Laboratory of Molecular Biology Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Francis Crick Ave Cambridge CB2 OQH UK.


A major driving force for the adaptation of bacteria to changing environments is the uptake of naked DNA from the environment by natural transformation, which allows the acquisition of new capabilities. Uptake of the high molecular weight DNA is mediated by a complex transport machinery that spans the entire cell periphery. This DNA translocator catalyzes the binding and splitting of double-stranded DNA and translocation of single-stranded DNA into the cytoplasm, where it is recombined with the chromosome. The thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus exhibits the highest transformation frequencies reported and is a model system to analyze the structure and function of this macromolecular transport machinery. Transport activity is powered by the traffic ATPase PilF, a soluble protein that forms hexameric complexes. Here, we demonstrate that PilF physically binds to an inner membrane assembly platform of the DNA translocator, comprising PilMNO, via the ATP-binding protein PilM. Binding to PilMNO or PilMN stimulates the ATPase activity of PilF ~ 2-fold, whereas there is no stimulation when binding to PilM or PilN alone. A PilMK26A variant defective in ATP binding still binds PilF and, together with PilN, stimulates PilF-mediated ATPase activity. PilF is unique in having three conserved GSPII (general secretory pathway II) domains (A-C) at its N terminus. Deletion analyses revealed that none of the GSPII domains is essential for binding PilMN, but GSPIIC is essential for PilMN-mediated stimulation of ATP hydrolysis by PilF. Our data suggest that PilM is a coupling protein that physically and functionally connects the soluble motor ATPase PilF to the DNA translocator via the PilMNO assembly platform.


ATPase; DNA transporter; PilF; natural competence; thermophile; type IV pili

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