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Discovery of a new neisseria gonorrhoeae type iv pilus assembly factor, tfpc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Linda I. Hu, Shaohui Yin, Egon A. Ozer, Lee Sewell, Saima Rehman, James A. Garnett, H. Steven Seifert

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02528-20
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Published1 Sep 2020

King's Authors


Neisseria gonorrhoeae relies on type IV pili (T4p) to promote colonization of their human host and to cause the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. This organelle cycles through a process of extension and retraction back into the bacterial cell. Through a genetic screen, we identified the NGO0783 locus of N. gonorrhoeae strain FA1090 as containing a gene encoding a protein required to stabilize the type IV pilus in its extended, nonretracted conformation. We have named the gene tfpC and the protein TfpC. Deletion of tfpC produces a nonpiliated colony morphology, and immunotransmission electron microscopy confirms that the pili are lost in the ΔtfpC mutant, although there is some pilin detected near the bacterial cell surface. A copy of the tfpC gene expressed from a lac promoter restores pilus expression and related phenotypes. A ΔtfpC mutant shows reduced levels of pilin protein, but complementation with a tfpC gene restored pilin to normal levels. Bioinformatic searches show that there are orthologues in numerous bacterial species, but not all type IV pilin-expressing bacteria contain orthologous genes. Coevolution and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis indicates that TfpC contains an N-terminal transmembrane helix, a substantial extended/ unstructured region, and a highly charged C-terminal coiled-coil domain. IMPORTANCE Most bacterial species express one or more extracellular organelles called pili/fimbriae that are required for many properties of each bacterial cell. The Neisseria gonorrhoeae type IV pilus is a major virulence and colonization factor for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. We have discovered a new protein of Neisseria gonorrhoeae called TfpC that is required to maintain type IV pili on the bacterial cell surface. There are similar proteins found in other members of the Neisseria genus and many other bacterial species important for human health.

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