Functional analyses of pilin-like proteins from Francisella tularensis: complementation of type IV pilus phenotypes in Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Microbiology. 2009 Aug;155(Pt 8):2546-2559. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.028183-0. Epub 2009 May 7.


Accumulating evidence from a number of studies strongly suggests that proteins orthologous to those involved in type IV pili (Tfp) assembly and function are required for Francisella pathogenicity. However, the molecular mechanisms by which the components exert their influence on virulence remain poorly understood. Owing to the conservation and promiscuity of Tfp biogenesis machineries, expression of Tfp pilins in heterologous species has been used successfully to analyse organelle structure-function relationships. In this study we expressed a number of Francisella pilin genes in the Tfp-expressing pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae lacking its endogenous pilin subunit. Two gene products, the orthologous PilA proteins from Francisella tularensis subspecies tularensis and novicida, were capable of restoring the expression of Tfp-like appendages that were shown to be dependent upon the neisserial Tfp biogenesis machinery for surface localization. Expression of Francisella PilA pilins also partially restored competence for natural transformation in N. gonorrhoeae. This phenotype was not complemented by expression of the PulG and XcpT proteins, which are equivalent components of the related type II protein secretion system. Taken together, these findings provide compelling, although indirect, evidence of the potential for Francisella PilA proteins to express functional Tfp.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Fimbriae Proteins* / biosynthesis
  • Fimbriae Proteins* / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Francisella tularensis / genetics*
  • Francisella tularensis / pathogenicity
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Glycosylation
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / metabolism*
  • Transformation, Bacterial
  • Virulence


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • XcpT protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Fimbriae Proteins