Dynamics of Neisseria gonorrhoeae attachment: microcolony development, cortical plaque formation, and cytoprotection.
ABSTRACT: Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, a major sexually transmitted disease and a significant cofactor for human immunodeficiency virus transmission. The retactile N. gonorrhoeae type IV pilus (Tfp) mediates twitching motility and attachment. Using live-cell microscopy, we reveal for the first time the dynamics of twitching motility by N. gonorrhoeae in its natural environment, human epithelial cells. Bacteria aggregate into microcolonies on the cell surface and induce a massive remodeling of the microvillus architecture. Surprisingly, the microcolonies are motile, and they fuse to form progressively larger structures that undergo rapid reorganization, suggesting that bacteria communicate with each other during infection. As reported, actin plaques form beneath microcolonies. Here, we show that cortical plaques comigrate with motile microcolonies. These activities are dependent on pilT, the Tfp retraction locus. Cultures infected with a pilT mutant have significantly higher numbers of apoptotic cells than cultures infected with the wild-type strain. Inducing pilT expression with isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside partially rescues cells from infection-induced apoptosis, demonstrating that Tfp retraction is intrinsically cytoprotective for the host. Tfp-mediated attachment is therefore a continuum of microcolony motility and force stimulation of host cell signaling, leading to a cytoprotective effect.
Project description:Expression of type IV pili (Tfp) correlates with the ability of Neisseria gonorrhoeae to colonize the human host, as well as with adherence to human epithelial tissue, twitching motility, competence for natural transformation, and autoagglutination. N. gonorrhoeae PilF (required for Tfp biogenesis) and PilT (required for twitching motility and transformation) share significant identities with members of a family of putative ATPases involved in membrane trafficking of macromolecules. An open reading frame downstream of the pilT locus encoding a 408-amino-acid protein with 33% identity with the gonococcal PilT protein and 45% identity with the PilU protein in Pseudomonas aeruginosa was characterized, and the corresponding gene was designated pilU. Unlike N. gonorrhoeae pilT mutants, pilU mutants express twitching motility and are competent for DNA transformation. However, loss-of-function mutations in pilU increased bacterial adherence to ME-180 human epithelial cells eightfold and disrupted in vitro Tfp-associated autoagglutination. Comparative alignment of N. gonorrhoeae PilU with other members of the TrbB-like family of traffic ATPases revealed a conserved carboxy-terminal domain unique to family members which are not essential for Tfp biogenesis but which specifically modify Tfp-associated phenotypes. Studies of the pilT-pilU locus by using Northern blotting, transcriptional fusions, and reverse transcription-PCR showed that the two genes encoding closely related proteins with dissimilar effects on Tfp phenotypes are transcribed from a single promoter.
Project description:Retraction of the type IV pilus (Tfp) mediates DNA uptake, motility, and social and infection behavior in a wide variety of prokaryotes. To date, investigations into Tfp retraction-dependent activities have used a mutant deleted of PilT, the ATPase motor protein that causes the pilus fiber to retract. ?pilT cells are nontransformable, nonmotile, and cannot aggregate into microcolonies. We tested the hypothesis that these retraction-dependent activities are sensitive to the strength of PilT enzymatic activity by using the pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae as a model. We constructed an N. gonorrhoeae mutant with an amino acid substitution in the PilT Walker B box (a substitution of cysteine for leucine at position 201, encoded by pilT<sub>L201C</sub>). Purified PilT<sub>L201C</sub> forms a native hexamer, but mutant hexamers hydrolyze ATP at half the maximal rate. N. gonorrhoeae pilT<sub>L201C</sub> cells produce Tfp fibers, crawl at the same speed as the wild-type (wt) parent, and are equally transformable. However, the social behavior of pilT<sub>L201C</sub> cells is intermediate between the behaviors of wt and ?pilT cells. The infection behavior of pilT<sub>L201C</sub> is also defective, due to its failure to activate the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF) pathway. Our study indicates that pilus retraction, per se, is not sufficient for N. gonorrhoeae microcolony formation or infectivity; rather, these activities are sensitive to the strength of PilT enzymatic activity. We discuss the implications of these findings for Neisseria pathogenesis in the context of mechanobiology.<h4>Importance</h4>Type IV pili are fibers expressed on the surface of many bacteria. Neisseria gonorrhoeae cells crawl, take up DNA, and communicate with each other and with human cells by retracting these fibers. Here, we show that an N. gonorrhoeae mutant expressing an enzymatically weakened type IV pilus retraction motor still crawls and takes up DNA normally. However, mutant cells exhibit abnormal social behavior, and they are less infective because they fail to activate the epidermal growth factor receptor. Our study shows that N. gonorrhoeae social and infection behaviors are sensitive to the strength of the retraction motor enzyme.
Project description:The ATPase protein PilT mediates retraction of type IV pili (Tfp). Tfp retraction of Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes many signal transduction events and changes in gene expression in infected epithelial cells. To find out whether a pilT mutation and lack of Tfp retraction, respectively, lead also to gene regulation in bacteria, we performed microarrays comparing the transcriptional profiles of the N. gonorrhoeae parent strain MS11 and its isogenic pilT mutant during growth in vitro. A loss-of-function-mutation in pilT led to altered transcript levels of 63 ORFs. Levels of pilE transcripts and its deduced protein, the major Tfp subunit pilin, were increased most markedly by a mutation in pilT. Further studies revealed that pilE expression was also controlled by two other genes encoding Tfp biogenesis proteins, pilD and pilF. Our studies strongly suggest that pilE expression is a finely tuned process.
Project description:Early in infection, Neisseria gonorrhoeae can be observed to attach to the epithelial cell surface as microcolonies and induce dramatic changes to the host cell cortex. We tested the hypothesis that type IV pili (Tfp) retraction plays a role in the ultrastructure of both the host cell cortex and the bacterial microcolony. Using serial ultrathin sectioning, transmission electron microscopy and 3D reconstruction of serial 2D images, we have obtained what we believe to be the first 3D reconstructions of the N. gonorrhoeae-host cell interface, and determined the architecture of infected cell microvilli as well as the attached microcolony. Tfp connect both wild-type (wt) and Tfp retraction-deficient bacteria with each other, and with the host cell membrane. Tfp fibres and microvilli form a lattice in the wt microcolony and at its periphery. Wt microcolonies induce microvilli formation and increases of surface area, leading to an approximately ninefold increase in the surface area of the host cell membrane at the site of attachment. In contrast, Tfp retraction-deficient microcolonies do not affect these parameters. Wt microcolonies had a symmetrical, dome-shaped structure with a circular 'footprint', while Tfp retraction-deficient microcolonies were notably less symmetrical. These findings support a major role for Tfp retraction in microvilli and microcolony architecture. They are consistent with the biophysical attributes of Tfp and the effects of Tfp retraction on epithelial cell signalling.
Project description:The causative agent of gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, bears retractable filamentous appendages called type IV pili (Tfp). Tfp are used by many pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria to carry out a number of vital functions, including DNA uptake, twitching motility (crawling over surfaces), and attachment to host cells. In N. gonorrhoeae, Tfp binding to epithelial cells and the mechanical forces associated with this binding stimulate signaling cascades and gene expression that enhance infection. Retraction of a single Tfp filament generates forces of 50-100 piconewtons, but nothing is known, thus far, on the retraction force ability of multiple Tfp filaments, even though each bacterium expresses multiple Tfp and multiple bacteria interact during infection. We designed a micropillar assay system to measure Tfp retraction forces. This system consists of an array of force sensors made of elastic pillars that allow quantification of retraction forces from adherent N. gonorrhoeae bacteria. Electron microscopy and fluorescence microscopy were used in combination with this novel assay to assess the structures of Tfp. We show that Tfp can form bundles, which contain up to 8-10 Tfp filaments, that act as coordinated retractable units with forces up to 10 times greater than single filament retraction forces. Furthermore, single filament retraction forces are transient, whereas bundled filaments produce retraction forces that can be sustained. Alterations of noncovalent protein-protein interactions between Tfp can inhibit both bundle formation and high-amplitude retraction forces. Retraction forces build over time through the recruitment and bundling of multiple Tfp that pull cooperatively to generate forces in the nanonewton range. We propose that Tfp retraction can be synchronized through bundling, that Tfp bundle retraction can generate forces in the nanonewton range in vivo, and that such high forces could affect infection.
Project description:The ubiquitous species Pseudomonas stutzeri has type IV pili, and these are essential for the natural transformation of the cells. An absolute transformation-deficient mutant obtained after transposon mutagenesis had an insertion in a gene which was termed pilT. The deduced amino acid sequence has identity with PilT of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (94%), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (67%), and other gram-negative species and it contains a nucleotide-binding motif. The mutant was hyperpiliated but defective for further pilus-associated properties, such as twitching motility and plating of pilus-specific phage PO4. [(3)H]thymidine-labeled DNA was bound by the mutant but not taken up. Downstream of pilT a gene, termed pilU, coding for a putative protein with 88% amino acid identity with PilU of P. aeruginosa was identified. Insertional inactivation did not affect piliation, twitching motility, or PO4 infection but reduced transformation to about 10%. The defect was fully complemented by PilU of nontransformable P. aeruginosa. When the pilAI gene (coding for the type IV pilus prepilin) was manipulated to code for a protein in which the six C-terminal amino acids were replaced by six histidine residues and then expressed from a plasmid, it gave a nonpiliated and twitching motility-defective phenotype in pilAI::Gm(r) cells but allowed transformability. Moreover, the mutant allele suppressed the absolute transformation deficiency caused by the pilT mutation. Considering the hypothesized role of pilT(+) in pilus retraction and the presumed requirement of retraction for DNA uptake, it is proposed that the pilT-independent transformation is promoted by PilA mutant protein either as single molecules or as minimal pilin assembly structures in the periplasm which may resemble depolymerized pili and that these cause the outer membrane pores to open for DNA entry.
Project description:Prokaryotes have the ability to walk on surfaces using type IV pili (TFP), a motility mechanism known as twitching1,2. Molecular motors drive TFP extension and retraction, but whether and how these movements are coordinated is unknown3. Here, we reveal how the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa coordinates the motorized activity of TFP to power efficient surface motility. To do this, we dynamically visualized TFP extension, attachment and retraction events at high resolution in four dimensions using label-free interferometric scattering microscopy (iSCAT)4. By measuring TFP dynamics, we found that the retraction motor PilT was sufficient to generate tension and power motility in free solution, while its partner ATPase PilU may improve retraction only in high-friction environments. Using precise timing of successive attachment and retraction, we show that P. aeruginosa engages PilT motors very rapidly and almost only when TFP encounter the surface, suggesting contact sensing. Finally, measurements of TFP dwell times on surfaces show that tension reinforced the adhesion strength to the surface of individual pili, thereby increasing effective pulling time during retraction. The successive control of TFP extension, attachment, retraction and detachment suggests that sequential control of motility machinery is a conserved strategy for optimized locomotion across domains of life.
Project description:UNLABELLED:Acinetobacter baumannii is a Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen. Recently, multiple A. baumannii genomes have been sequenced; these data have led to the identification of many genes predicted to encode proteins required for the biogenesis of type IV pili (TFP). However, there is no experimental evidence demonstrating that A. baumannii strains actually produce functional TFP. Here, we demonstrated that A. baumannii strain M2 is naturally transformable and capable of twitching motility, two classical TFP-associated phenotypes. Strains were constructed with mutations in pilA, pilD, and pilT, genes whose products have been well characterized in other systems. These mutants were no longer naturally transformable and did not exhibit twitching motility. These TFP-associated phenotypes were restored when these mutations were complemented. More PilA was detected on the surface of the pilT mutant than the parental strain, and TFP were visualized on the pilT mutant by transmission electron microscopy. Thus, A. baumannii produces functional TFP and utilizes TFP for both natural transformation and twitching motility. Several investigators have hypothesized that TFP might be responsible, in part, for the flagellum-independent surface-associated motility exhibited by many A. baumannii clinical isolates. We demonstrated that surface-associated motility was not dependent on the products of the pilA, pilD, and pilT genes and, by correlation, TFP. The identification of functional TFP in A. baumannii lays the foundation for future work determining the role of TFP in models of virulence that partially recapitulate human disease. IMPORTANCE:Several investigators have documented the presence of genes predicted to encode proteins required for the biogenesis of TFP in many A. baumannii genomes. Furthermore, some have speculated that TFP may play a role in the unique surface-associated motility phenotype exhibited by many A. baumannii clinical isolates, yet there has been no experimental evidence to prove this. Unfortunately, progress in understanding the biology and virulence of A. baumannii has been slowed by the difficulty of constructing and complementing mutations in this species. Strain M2, a recently characterized clinical isolate, is amenable to genetic manipulation. We have established a reproducible system for the generation of marked and/or unmarked mutations using a modified recombineering strategy as well as a genetic complementation system utilizing a modified mini-Tn7 element in strain M2. Using this strategy, we demonstrated that strain M2 produces TFP and that TFP are not required for surface-associated motility exhibited by strain M2.
Project description:Type IV pili (TFP) play central roles in the expression of many phenotypes including motility, multicellular behavior, sensitivity to bacteriophages, natural genetic transformation, and adherence. In Neisseria gonorrhoeae, these properties require ancillary proteins that act in conjunction with TFP expression and influence organelle dynamics. Here, the intrinsic contributions of the pilin protein itself to TFP dynamics and associated phenotypes were examined by expressing the Pseudomonas aeruginosa PilA(PAK) pilin subunit in N. gonorrhoeae. We show here that, although PilA(PAK) pilin can be readily assembled into TFP in this background, steady-state levels of purifiable fibers are dramatically reduced relative those of endogenous pili. This defect is due to aberrant TFP dynamics as it is suppressed in the absence of the PilT pilus retraction ATPase. Functionally, PilA(PAK) pilin complements gonococcal adherence for human epithelial cells but only in a pilT background, and this property remains dependent on the coexpression of both the PilC adhesin and the PilV pilin-like protein. Since P. aeruginosa pilin only moderately supports neisserial sequence-specific transformation despite its assembly proficiency, these results together suggest that PilA(PAK) pilin functions suboptimally in this environment. This appears to be due to diminished compatibility with resident proteins essential for TFP function and dynamics. Despite this, PilA(PAK) pili support retractile force generation in this background equivalent to that reported for endogenous pili. Furthermore, PilA(PAK) pili are both necessary and sufficient for bacteriophage PO4 binding, although the strain remains phage resistant. Together, these findings have significant implications for TFP biology in both N. gonorrhoeae and P. aeruginosa.
Project description:Post-translational acetylation is a common protein modification in bacteria. It was recently reported that Neisseria gonorrhoeae acetylates the Type IV pilus retraction motor, PilT. Here, we show recombinant PilT can be acetylated in vitro and acetylation does not affect PilT ultrastructure. To investigate the function of PilT acetylation, we mutated an acetylated lysine, K117, to mimic its acetylated or unacetylated forms. These mutations were not tolerated by wild-type N. gonorrhoeae, but they were tolerated by N. gonorrhoeae carrying an inducible pilE when grown without inducer. We identified additional mutations in pilT and pilU that suppress the lethality of K117 mutations. To investigate the link between PilE and PilT acetylation, we found the lack of PilE decreases PilT acetylation levels and increases the amount of PilT associated with the inner membrane. Finally, we found no difference between wild-type and mutant cells in transformation efficiency, suggesting neither mutation inhibits Type IV pilus retraction. Mutant cells, however, form microcolonies morphologically distinct from wt cells. We conclude that interfering with the acetylation status of PilTK117 greatly reduces N. gonorrhoeae viability, and mutations in pilT, pilU and pilE can overcome this lethality. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of Type IV pilus retraction regulation.