The comP locus of Neisseria gonorrhoeae encodes a type IV prepilin that is dispensable for pilus biogenesis but essential for natural transformation

Mol Microbiol. 1999 Mar;31(5):1345-57. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.1999.01269.x.


The expression of type IV pili (Tfp) by Neisseria gonorrhoeae has been shown to be essential for natural genetic transformation at the level of sequence-specific uptake of DNA. All previously characterized mutants defective in this step of transformation either lack Tfp or are altered in the expression of Tfp-associated properties, such as twitching motility, autoagglutination and the ability to bind to human epithelial cells. To examine the basis for this relationship, we identified potential genes encoding polypeptides sharing structural similarities to PilE, the Tfp subunit, within the N. gonorrhoeae genome sequence database. We found that disruption of one such gene, designated comP (for competence-associated prepilin), leads to a severe defect in the capacity to take up DNA in a sequence-specific manner, but does not alter Tfp biogenesis or expression of the Tfp-associated properties of auto-agglutination, twitching motility and human epithelial cell adherence. Indirect evidence based on immunodetection suggests that ComP is expressed at very low levels relative to that of PilE. The process of DNA uptake in gonococci, therefore, is now known to require the expression of at least three distinct components: Tfp, the recently identified PilT protein and ComP.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cornea / metabolism
  • Databases, Factual
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Endopeptidases / genetics*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Membrane Proteins*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / ultrastructure
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Transferases*
  • Transformation, Bacterial / physiology*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Transferases
  • comP protein, Bacillus subtilis
  • Endopeptidases
  • type IV prepilin peptidase