The Type III Secretion Translocation Pore Senses Host Cell Contact

PLoS Pathog. 2016 Mar 29;12(3):e1005530. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005530. eCollection 2016 Mar.


Type III secretion systems (T3SS) are nano-syringes used by a wide range of Gram-negative pathogens to promote infection by directly injecting effector proteins into targeted host cells. Translocation of effectors is triggered by host-cell contact and requires assembly of a pore in the host-cell plasma membrane, which consists of two translocator proteins. Our understanding of the translocation pore, how it is assembled in the host cell membrane and its precise role in effector translocation, is extremely limited. Here we use a genetic technique to identify protein-protein contacts between pore-forming translocator proteins, as well as the T3SS needle-tip, that are critical for translocon function. The data help establish the orientation of the translocator proteins in the host cell membrane. Analysis of translocon function in mutants that break these contacts demonstrates that an interaction between the pore-forming translocator PopD and the needle-tip is required for sensing host cell contact. Moreover, tethering PopD at a dimer interface also specifically prevents host-cell sensing, arguing that the translocation pore is actively involved in detecting host cell contact. The work presented here therefore establishes a signal transduction pathway for sensing host cell contact that is initiated by a conformational change in the translocation pore, and is subsequently transmitted to the base of the apparatus via a specific contact between the pore and the T3SS needle-tip.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Type III Secretion Systems / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Type III Secretion Systems