Phylogenomics reveals a diverse Rickettsiales type IV secretion system

Infect Immun. 2010 May;78(5):1809-23. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01384-09. Epub 2010 Feb 22.


With an obligate intracellular lifestyle, Alphaproteobacteria of the order Rickettsiales have inextricably coevolved with their various eukaryotic hosts, resulting in small, reductive genomes and strict dependency on host resources. Unsurprisingly, large portions of Rickettsiales genomes encode proteins involved in transport and secretion. One particular transporter that has garnered recent attention from researchers is the type IV secretion system (T4SS). Homologous to the well-studied archetypal vir T4SS of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the Rickettsiales vir homolog (rvh) T4SS is characterized primarily by duplication of several of its genes and scattered genomic distribution of all components in several conserved islets. Phylogeny estimation suggests a single event of ancestral acquirement of the rvh T4SS, likely from a nonalphaproteobacterial origin. Bioinformatics analysis of over 30 Rickettsiales genome sequences illustrates a conserved core rvh scaffold (lacking only a virB5 homolog), with lineage-specific diversification of several components (rvhB1, rvhB2, and rvhB9b), likely a result of modifications to cell envelope structure. This coevolution of the rvh T4SS and cell envelope morphology is probably driven by adaptations to various host cells, identifying the transporter as an important target for vaccine development. Despite the genetic intractability of Rickettsiales, recent advancements have been made in the characterization of several components of the rvh T4SS, as well as its putative regulators and substrates. While current data favor a role in effector translocation, functions in DNA uptake and release and/or conjugation cannot at present be ruled out, especially considering that a mechanism for plasmid transfer in Rickettsia spp. has yet to be proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny*
  • Rickettsiaceae / genetics*
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Virulence Factors