Type IV pili (T4P) are distinctive dynamic filaments at the surface of many bacteria that can rapidly extend and retract and withstand strong forces. T4P are important virulence factors in many human pathogens, including Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC). The structure of the EHEC T4P has been determined by integrating nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and cryo-electron microscopy data. To better understand pilus assembly, stability, and function, we performed a total of 108 ms all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of wild-type and mutant T4P. Extensive characterization of the conformational landscape of T4P in different conditions of temperature, pH, and ionic strength is complemented with targeted mutagenesis and biochemical analyses. Our simulations and NMR experiments reveal a conserved set of residues defining a calcium-binding site at the interface between three pilin subunits. Calcium binding enhances T4P stability ex vivo and in vitro, supporting the role of this binding site as a potential pocket for drug design.
Keywords: EHEC; Escherichia coli; Type IV pili; calcium binding; molecular dynamics; pilus dynamics; pilus stability.
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