Exceptionally widespread nanomachines composed of type IV pilins: the prokaryotic Swiss Army knives

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2015 Jan;39(1):134-54. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuu001. Epub 2014 Dec 4.


Prokaryotes have engineered sophisticated surface nanomachines that have allowed them to colonize Earth and thrive even in extreme environments. Filamentous machineries composed of type IV pilins, which are associated with an amazing array of properties ranging from motility to electric conductance, are arguably the most widespread since distinctive proteins dedicated to their biogenesis are found in most known species of prokaryotes. Several decades of investigations, starting with type IV pili and then a variety of related systems both in bacteria and archaea, have outlined common molecular and structural bases for these nanomachines. Using type IV pili as a paradigm, we will highlight in this review common aspects and key biological differences of this group of filamentous structures.

Keywords: archaellum; class III signal peptide; prepilin peptidase; type II secretion system; type IV pilus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / classification
  • Archaea / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Fimbriae Proteins / chemistry
  • Fimbriae Proteins / metabolism*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • Fimbriae Proteins