Architecture of the type II secretion and type IV pilus machineries

Future Microbiol. 2010 Aug;5(8):1203-18. doi: 10.2217/fmb.10.76.


Motility and protein secretion are key processes contributing to bacterial virulence. A wealth of phylogenetic, biochemical and structural evidence support the hypothesis that the widely distributed type IV pilus (T4P) system, involved in twitching motility, and the type II secretion (T2S) system, involved in exoprotein release, are descended from a common progenitor. Both are composed of dedicated but dynamic assemblages, which have been proposed to function through alternate polymerization and depolymerization or degradation of pilin-like subunits. While ongoing studies aimed at understanding the details of assembly and function of these systems are leading to new insights, there are still large knowledge gaps with respect to several fundamental aspects of their biology, including the localization and stoichiometry of critical assembly components, and the nature of their interactions. This article highlights recent advances in understanding the architectures of the T4P and T2S systems, and the organization of their inner and outer membrane components. As structural data accumulates, it is becoming increasingly apparent that even components with little-to-no sequence similarity have similar folds, further supporting the idea that both systems function by a similar mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Fimbriae Proteins / chemistry
  • Fimbriae Proteins / genetics*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Macromolecular Substances / chemistry*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Multimerization


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Fimbriae Proteins