Bacterial type III secretion systems: specialized nanomachines for protein delivery into target cells

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2014:68:415-38. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-092412-155725. Epub 2014 Jun 18.


One of the most exciting developments in the field of bacterial pathogenesis in recent years is the discovery that many pathogens utilize complex nanomachines to deliver bacterially encoded effector proteins into target eukaryotic cells. These effector proteins modulate a variety of cellular functions for the pathogen's benefit. One of these protein-delivery machines is the type III secretion system (T3SS). T3SSs are widespread in nature and are encoded not only by bacteria pathogenic to vertebrates or plants but also by bacteria that are symbiotic to plants or insects. A central component of T3SSs is the needle complex, a supramolecular structure that mediates the passage of the secreted proteins across the bacterial envelope. Working in conjunction with several cytoplasmic components, the needle complex engages specific substrates in sequential order, moves them across the bacterial envelope, and ultimately delivers them into eukaryotic cells. The central role of T3SSs in pathogenesis makes them great targets for novel antimicrobial strategies.

Keywords: bacterial pathogenesis; molecular machines; protein secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / chemistry*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems*
  • Humans
  • Protein Transport


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems