Structural foundation for the role of enterococcal PrgB in conjugation, biofilm formation, and virulence

Elife. 2023 Oct 20:12:RP84427. doi: 10.7554/eLife.84427.


Type 4 Secretion Systems are a main driver for the spread of antibiotic resistance genes and virulence factors in bacteria. In Gram-positives, these secretion systems often rely on surface adhesins to enhance cellular aggregation and mating-pair formation. One of the best studied adhesins is PrgB from the conjugative plasmid pCF10 of Enterococcus faecalis, which has been shown to play major roles in conjugation, biofilm formation, and importantly also in bacterial virulence. Since prgB orthologs exist on a large number of conjugative plasmids in various different species, this makes PrgB a model protein for this widespread virulence factor. After characterizing the polymer adhesin domain of PrgB previously, we here report the structure for almost the entire remainder of PrgB, which reveals that PrgB contains four immunoglobulin (Ig)-like domains. Based on this new insight, we re-evaluate previously studied variants and present new in vivo data where specific domains or conserved residues have been removed. For the first time, we can show a decoupling of cellular aggregation from biofilm formation and conjugation in prgB mutant phenotypes. Based on the presented data, we propose a new functional model to explain how PrgB mediates its different functions. We hypothesize that the Ig-like domains act as a rigid stalk that presents the polymer adhesin domain at the right distance from the cell wall.

Keywords: E. coli; Enterococcus faecalis; bacterial adhesion; biochemistry; chemical biology; conjugation; molecular biophysics; structural biology; type 4 secretion system.

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial* / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins* / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins* / metabolism
  • Biofilms
  • Plasmids
  • Polymers
  • Virulence / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Virulence Factors
  • Polymers

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.