Motor Properties of PilT-Independent Type 4 Pilus Retraction in Gonococci

Journal of Bacteriology
Robert ZöllnerBerenike Maier


Bacterial type 4 pili (T4P) belong to the strongest molecular machines. The gonococcal T4P retraction ATPase PilT supports forces exceeding 100 pN during T4P retraction. Here, we address the question of whether gonococcal T4P retract in the absence of PilT. We show that pilT deletion strains indeed retract their T4P, but the maximum force is reduced to 5 pN. Similarly, the speed of T4P retraction is lower by orders of magnitude compared to that of T4P retraction driven by PilT. Deleting the pilT paralogue pilT2 further reduces the speed of T4P retraction, yet T4P retraction is detectable in the absence of all three pilT paralogues. Furthermore, we show that depletion of proton motive force (PMF) slows but does not inhibit pilT-independent T4P retraction. We conclude that the retraction ATPase is not essential for gonococcal T4P retraction. However, the force generated in the absence of PilT is too low to support important functions of T4P, including twitching motility, fluidization of colonies, and induction of host cell response.IMPORTANCE Bacterial type 4 pili (T4P) have been termed the "Swiss Army knives" of bacteria because they perform numerous functions, including host cell interaction, twitching motility, colony formatio...Continue Reading


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