Loss of meningococcal PilU delays microcolony formation and attenuates virulence in vivo.
ABSTRACT: Neisseria meningitidis is a major cause of sepsis and bacterial meningitis worldwide. This bacterium expresses type IV pili (Tfp), which mediate important virulence traits such as the formation of bacterial aggregates, host cell adhesion, twitching motility, and DNA uptake. The meningococcal PilT protein is a hexameric ATPase that mediates pilus retraction. The PilU protein is produced from the pilT-pilU operon and shares a high degree of homology with PilT. The function of PilT in Tfp biology has been studied extensively, whereas the role of PilU remains poorly understood. Here we show that pilU mutants have delayed microcolony formation on host epithelial cells compared to the wild type, indicating that bacterium-bacterium interactions are affected. In normal human serum, the pilU mutant survived at a higher rate than that for wild-type bacteria. However, in a murine model of disease, mice infected with the pilT mutant demonstrated significantly reduced bacterial blood counts and survived at a higher rate than that for mice infected with the wild type. Infection of mice with the pilU mutant resulted in a trend of lower bacteremia, and still a significant increase in survival, than that of the wild type. In conclusion, these data suggest that PilU promotes timely microcolony formation and that both PilU and PilT are required for full bacterial virulence.
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:Bacterial type IV pili are critical for diverse biological processes including horizontal gene transfer, surface sensing, biofilm formation, adherence, motility, and virulence. These dynamic appendages extend and retract from the cell surface. In many type IVa pilus systems, extension occurs through the action of an extension ATPase, often called PilB, while optimal retraction requires the action of a retraction ATPase, PilT. Many type IVa systems also encode a homolog of PilT called PilU. However, the function of this protein has remained unclear because pilU mutants exhibit inconsistent phenotypes among type IV pilus systems and because it is relatively understudied compared to PilT. Here, we study the type IVa competence pilus of Vibrio cholerae as a model system to define the role of PilU. We show that the ATPase activity of PilU is critical for pilus retraction in PilT Walker A and/or Walker B mutants. PilU does not, however, contribute to pilus retraction in ?pilT strains. Thus, these data suggest that PilU is a bona fide retraction ATPase that supports pilus retraction in a PilT-dependent manner. We also found that a ?pilU mutant exhibited a reduction in the force of retraction suggesting that PilU is important for generating maximal retraction forces. Additional in vitro and in vivo data show that PilT and PilU act as independent homo-hexamers that may form a complex to facilitate pilus retraction. Finally, we demonstrate that the role of PilU as a PilT-dependent retraction ATPase is conserved in Acinetobacter baylyi, suggesting that the role of PilU described here may be broadly applicable to other type IVa pilus systems.
Project description:Type IV pili are dynamic cell surface appendages found throughout the bacteria. The ability of these structures to undergo repetitive cycles of extension and retraction underpins their crucial roles in adhesion, motility and natural competence for transformation. In the best-studied systems a dedicated retraction ATPase PilT powers pilus retraction. Curiously, a second presumed retraction ATPase PilU is often encoded immediately downstream of pilT. However, despite the presence of two potential retraction ATPases, pilT deletions lead to a total loss of pilus function, raising the question of why PilU fails to take over. Here, using the DNA-uptake pilus and mannose-sensitive haemagglutinin (MSHA) pilus of Vibrio cholerae as model systems, we show that inactivated PilT variants, defective for either ATP-binding or hydrolysis, have unexpected intermediate phenotypes that are PilU-dependent. In addition to demonstrating that PilU can function as a bona fide retraction ATPase, we go on to make the surprising discovery that PilU functions exclusively in a PilT-dependent manner and identify a naturally occurring pandemic V. cholerae PilT variant that renders PilU essential for pilus function. Finally, we show that Pseudomonas aeruginosa PilU also functions as a PilT-dependent retraction ATPase, providing evidence that the functional coupling between PilT and PilU could be a widespread mechanism for optimal pilus retraction.
Project description: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: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: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:Type IV fimbriae are essential virulence factors of Dichelobacter nodosus, the principal causative agent of ovine foot rot. The fimA fimbrial subunit gene is required for virulence, but fimA mutants exhibit several phenotypic changes and it is not certain if the effects on virulence result from the loss of type IV fimbria-mediated twitching motility, cell adherence, or reduced protease secretion. We showed that mutation of either the pilT or pilU gene eliminated the ability to carry out twitching motility. However, the pilT mutants displayed decreased adhesion to epithelial cells and reduced protease secretion, whereas the pilU mutants had wild-type levels of extracellular protease secretion and adherence. These data provided evidence that PilT is required for the type IV fimbria-dependent protease secretion pathway in D. nodosus. It was postulated that sufficient fimbrial retraction must occur in the pilU mutants to allow protease secretion, but not twitching motility, to take place. Although no cell movement was detected in a pilU mutant of D. nodosus, aberrant motion was detected in an equivalent mutant of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These observations explain how in D. nodosus protease secretion can occur in a pilU mutant but not in a pilT mutant. In addition, virulence studies with sheep showed that both the pilT and pilU mutants were avirulent, providing evidence that mutation of the type IV fimbrial system affects virulence by eliminating twitching motility, not by altering cell adherence or protease secretion.
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.
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.