The Type VI secretion system spike protein VgrG5 mediates membrane fusion during intercellular spread by pseudomallei group Burkholderia species

Infect Immun. 2014 Apr;82(4):1436-44. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01367-13. Epub 2014 Jan 13.


Pseudomallei group Burkholderia species are facultative intracellular parasites that spread efficiently from cell to cell by a mechanism involving the fusion of adjacent cell membranes. Intercellular fusion requires the function of the cluster 5 type VI secretion system (T6SS-5) and its associated valine-glycine repeat protein, VgrG5. Here we show that VgrG5 alleles are conserved and functionally interchangeable between Burkholderia pseudomallei and its relatives B. mallei, B. oklahomensis, and B. thailandensis. We also demonstrate that the integrity of the VgrG5 C-terminal domain is required for fusogenic activity, and we identify sequence motifs, including two hydrophobic segments, that are important for fusion. Mutagenesis and secretion experiments using B. pseudomallei strains engineered to express T6SS-5 in vitro show that the VgrG5 C-terminal domain is dispensable for T6SS-mediated secretion of Hcp5, demonstrating that the ability of VgrG5 to mediate membrane fusion can be uncoupled from its essential role in type VI secretion. We propose a model in which a unique fusogenic activity at the C terminus of VgrG5 facilitates intercellular spread by B. pseudomallei and related species following injection across the plasma membranes of infected cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Bacterial Adhesion / physiology*
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems / physiology*
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei / genetics
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei / pathogenicity*
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fusion / genetics
  • Membrane Fusion / physiology*


  • Bacterial Secretion Systems