Productive intercellular delivery of cargo by secretory systems requires exquisite temporal and spatial choreography. Our laboratory has demonstrated that the haemolysin co-regulated secretion island I (HSI-I)-encoded type VI secretion system (H1-T6SS) of Pseudomonas aeruginosa transfers effector proteins to other bacterial cells. The activity of these effectors requires cell contact-dependent delivery by the secretion apparatus, and thus their export is highly repressed under planktonic growth conditions. Here we define regulatory pathways that orchestrate efficient secretion by this system. We identified a T6S-associated protein, TagF, as a posttranslational repressor of the H1-T6SS. Strains activated by TagF derepression or stimulated through a previously identified threonine phosphorylation pathway (TPP) share the property of secretory ATPase recruitment to the T6S apparatus, yet display different effector output levels and genetic requirements for their export. We also found that these two pathways respond to distinct stimuli; we identified surface growth as a physiological cue that activates the H1-T6SS exclusively through the TPP. Coordination of posttranslational triggering with cell contact-promoting growth conditions provides a mechanism for the T6SS to avoid wasteful release of effectors.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.