Surface Organelles Assembled by Secretion Systems of Gram-negative Bacteria: Diversity in Structure and Function

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2012 Nov;36(6):1046-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2012.00342.x. Epub 2012 May 24.


Gram-negative bacteria express a wide variety of organelles on their cell surface. These surface structures may be the end products of secretion systems, such as the hair-like fibers assembled by the chaperone/usher (CU) and type IV pilus pathways, which generally function in adhesion to surfaces and bacterial-bacterial and bacterial-host interactions. Alternatively, the surface organelles may be integral components of the secretion machinery itself, such as the needle complex and pilus extensions formed by the type III and type IV secretion systems, which function in the delivery of bacterial effectors inside host cells. Bacterial surface structures perform functions critical for pathogenesis and have evolved to withstand forces exerted by the external environment and cope with defenses mounted by the host immune system. Given their essential roles in pathogenesis and exposed nature, bacterial surface structures also make attractive targets for therapeutic intervention. This review will describe the structure and function of surface organelles assembled by four different Gram-negative bacterial secretion systems: the CU pathway, the type IV pilus pathway, and the type III and type IV secretion systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / cytology
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / physiology*
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Organelles / physiology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems
  • Molecular Chaperones