Direct interaction between fd phage pilot protein pIII and the TolQ-TolR proton-dependent motor provides new insights into the import of filamentous phages

J Biol Chem. 2023 Aug;299(8):105048. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2023.105048. Epub 2023 Jul 13.


Filamentous phages are one of the simplest examples of viruses with a protein capsid that protects a circular single-stranded DNA genome. The infection is very specific, nonlytic, and can strongly affect the physiology or provide new pathogenic factors to its bacterial host. The infection process is proposed to rely on a pore-forming mechanism similar to that of certain nonenveloped eukaryotic viruses. The Ff coliphages (including M13, fd, and f1) have been intensively studied and were used to establish the sequence of events taking place for efficient crossing of the host envelope structure. However, the mechanism involved in the penetration of the cell inner membrane is not well understood. Here, we identify new host players involved in the phage translocation mechanism. Interaction studies by a combination of in vivo biochemical methods demonstrate that the adhesion protein pIII located at the tip of the phage binds to TolQ and TolR, two proteins that form a conserved proton-dependent molecular motor in the inner membrane of the host cell. Moreover, in vivo cysteine cross-linking studies reveal that the interactions between the pIII and TolQ or TolR occur between their transmembrane helix domains and may be responding to the proton motive force status of the cell. These results allow us to propose a model for the late stage of filamentous phage translocation mediated by multiple interactions with each individual component of the host TolQRA complex.

Keywords: Tol–Pal system; filamentous bacteriophage; infection; protein–protein interaction; proton motive force; virus entry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage M13*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins* / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins* / metabolism
  • Protons
  • Viral Proteins* / metabolism


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protons
  • tolQ protein, E coli
  • tolR protein, E coli
  • Viral Proteins