Structural bases for F plasmid conjugation and F pilus biogenesis in Escherichia coli.


Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, McGovern Medical School, Houston, TX 77030 [Email] [Email]


Bacterial conjugation systems are members of the large type IV secretion system (T4SS) superfamily. Conjugative transfer of F plasmids residing in the Enterobacteriaceae was first reported in the 1940s, yet the architecture of F plasmid-encoded transfer channel and its physical relationship with the F pilus remain unknown. We visualized F-encoded structures in the native bacterial cell envelope by in situ cryoelectron tomography (CryoET). Remarkably, F plasmids encode four distinct structures, not just the translocation channel or channel-pilus complex predicted by prevailing models. The F1 structure is composed of distinct outer and inner membrane complexes and a connecting cylinder that together house the envelope-spanning translocation channel. The F2 structure is essentially the F1 complex with the F pilus attached at the outer membrane (OM). Remarkably, the F3 structure consists of the F pilus attached to a thin, cell envelope-spanning stalk, whereas the F4 structure consists of the pilus docked to the OM without an associated periplasmic density. The traffic ATPase TraC is configured as a hexamer of dimers at the cytoplasmic faces of the F1 and F2 structures, where it respectively regulates substrate transfer and F pilus biogenesis. Together, our findings present architectural renderings of the DNA conjugation or "mating" channel, the channel-pilus connection, and unprecedented pilus basal structures. These structural snapshots support a model for biogenesis of the F transfer system and allow for detailed comparisons with other structurally characterized T4SSs.


DNA conjugation,cryoelectron tomography,pilus,protein transport,type IV secretion,

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