Molecular host mimicry and manipulation in bacterial symbionts

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2019 Feb 1;366(4):fnz038. doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnz038.


It is common among intracellular bacterial pathogens to use eukaryotic-like proteins that mimic and manipulate host cellular processes to promote colonization and intracellular survival. Eukaryotic-like proteins are bacterial proteins with domains that are rare in bacteria, and known to function in the context of a eukaryotic cell. Such proteins can originate through horizontal gene transfer from eukaryotes or, in the case of simple repeat proteins, through convergent evolution. Recent studies of microbiomes associated with several eukaryotic hosts suggest that similar molecular strategies are deployed by cooperative bacteria that interact closely with eukaryotic cells. Some mimics, like ankyrin repeats, leucine rich repeats and tetratricopeptide repeats are shared across diverse symbiotic systems ranging from amoebae to plants, and may have originated early, or evolved independently in multiple systems. Others, like plant-mimicking domains in members of the plant microbiome are likely to be more recent innovations resulting from horizontal gene transfer from the host, or from microbial eukaryotes occupying the same host. Host protein mimics have only been described in a limited set of symbiotic systems, but are likely to be more widespread. Systematic searches for eukaryote-like proteins in symbiont genomes could lead to the discovery of novel mechanisms underlying host-symbiont interactions.

Keywords: eukaryotic-like proteins; microbiome; mimicry; mimics; symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biological Mimicry*
  • Eukaryota*
  • Symbiosis*