Assembly, structure, function and regulation of type III secretion systems

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2017 Jun;15(6):323-337. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro.2017.20. Epub 2017 Apr 10.


Type III secretion systems (T3SSs) are protein transport nanomachines that are found in Gram-negative bacterial pathogens and symbionts. Resembling molecular syringes, T3SSs form channels that cross the bacterial envelope and the host cell membrane, which enable bacteria to inject numerous effector proteins into the host cell cytoplasm and establish trans-kingdom interactions with diverse hosts. Recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy and integrative imaging have provided unprecedented views of the architecture and structure of T3SSs. Furthermore, genetic and molecular analyses have elucidated the functions of many effectors and key regulators of T3SS assembly and secretion hierarchy, which is the sequential order by which the protein substrates are secreted. As essential virulence factors, T3SSs are attractive targets for vaccines and therapeutics. This Review summarizes our current knowledge of the structure and function of this important protein secretion machinery. A greater understanding of T3SSs should aid mechanism-based drug design and facilitate their manipulation for biotechnological applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Flagella / metabolism
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport / physiology
  • Type III Secretion Systems / metabolism*
  • Type III Secretion Systems / ultrastructure*


  • Type III Secretion Systems