The abi proteins and their involvement in bacteriocin self-immunity

J Bacteriol. 2010 Apr;192(8):2068-76. doi: 10.1128/JB.01553-09. Epub 2010 Feb 12.


The Abi protein family consists of putative membrane-bound metalloproteases. While they are involved in membrane anchoring of proteins in eukaryotes, little is known about their function in prokaryotes. In some known bacteriocin loci, Abi genes have been found downstream of bacteriocin structural genes (e.g., pln locus from Lactobacillus plantarum and sag locus from Streptococcus pyogenes), where they probably are involved in self-immunity. By modifying the profile hidden Markov model used to select Abi proteins in the Pfam protein family database, we show that this family is larger than presently recognized. Using bacteriocin-associated Abi genes as a means to search for novel bacteriocins in sequenced genomes, seven new bacteriocin-like loci were identified in Gram-positive bacteria. One such locus, from Lactobacillus sakei 23K, was selected for further experimental study, and it was confirmed that the bacteriocin-like genes (skkAB) exhibited antimicrobial activity when expressed in a heterologous host and that the associated Abi gene (skkI) conferred immunity against the cognate bacteriocin. Similar investigation of the Abi gene plnI and the Abi-like gene plnL from L. plantarum also confirmed their involvement in immunity to their cognate bacteriocins (PlnEF and PlnJK, respectively). Interestingly, the immunity genes from these three systems conferred a high degree of cross-immunity against each other's bacteriocins, suggesting the recognition of a common receptor. Site-directed mutagenesis demonstrated that the conserved motifs constituting the putative proteolytic active site of the Abi proteins are essential for the immunity function of SkkI, and to our knowledge, this represents a new concept in self-immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacteriocins / immunology*
  • Lactobacillus / genetics
  • Lactobacillus / immunology*
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism*
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacteriocins
  • plantaricin EF