Dual expression profile of type VI secretion system immunity genes protects pandemic Vibrio cholerae

PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(12):e1003752. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003752. Epub 2013 Dec 5.


The Vibrio cholerae type VI secretion system (T6SS) assembles as a molecular syringe that injects toxic protein effectors into both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. We previously reported that the V. cholerae O37 serogroup strain V52 maintains a constitutively active T6SS to kill other Gram-negative bacteria while being immune to attack by kin bacteria. The pandemic O1 El Tor V. cholerae strain C6706 is T6SS-silent under laboratory conditions as it does not produce T6SS structural components and effectors, and fails to kill Escherichia coli prey. Yet, C6706 exhibits full resistance when approached by T6SS-active V52. These findings suggested that an active T6SS is not required for immunity against T6SS-mediated virulence. Here, we describe a dual expression profile of the T6SS immunity protein-encoding genes tsiV1, tsiV2, and tsiV3 that provides pandemic V. cholerae strains with T6SS immunity and allows T6SS-silent strains to maintain immunity against attacks by T6SS-active bacterial neighbors. The dual expression profile allows transcription of the three genes encoding immunity proteins independently of other T6SS proteins encoded within the same operon. One of these immunity proteins, TsiV2, protects against the T6SS effector VasX which is encoded immediately upstream of tsiV2. VasX is a secreted, lipid-binding protein that we previously characterized with respect to T6SS-mediated virulence towards the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Our data suggest the presence of an internal promoter in the open reading frame of vasX that drives expression of the downstream gene tsiV2. Furthermore, VasX is shown to act in conjunction with VasW, an accessory protein to VasX, to compromise the inner membrane of prokaryotic target cells. The dual regulatory profile of the T6SS immunity protein-encoding genes tsiV1, tsiV2, and tsiV3 permits V. cholerae to tightly control T6SS gene expression while maintaining immunity to T6SS activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems / genetics*
  • Dictyostelium / growth & development
  • Dictyostelium / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Organisms, Genetically Modified
  • Transcriptome
  • Vibrio cholerae / genetics*
  • Vibrio cholerae / growth & development
  • Vibrio cholerae / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence / genetics*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems