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Type IV pilus (T4P) systems are complex molecular machines that polymerize major pilin proteins into thin filaments displayed on bacterial surfaces. Pilus functions require rapid extension and depolymerization of the pilus, powered by the assembly and retraction ATPases, respectively. A set of low abundance minor pilins influences pilus dynamics by unknown mechanisms. The Vibrio cholerae toxin-coregulated pilus (TCP) is among the simplest of the T4P systems, having a single minor pilin TcpB and lacking a retraction ATPase. Here we show that TcpB, like its homolog CofB, initiates pilus assembly. TcpB co-localizes with the pili but at extremely low levels, equivalent to one subunit per pilus. We used a micropillars assay to demonstrate that TCP are retractile despite the absence of a retraction ATPase, and that retraction relies on TcpB, as a V. cholerae tcpB Glu5Val mutant is fully piliated but does not induce micropillars movements. This mutant is impaired in TCP-mediated autoagglutination and TcpF secretion, consistent with retraction being required for these functions. We propose that TcpB initiates pilus retraction by incorporating into the growing pilus in a Glu5-dependent manner, which stalls assembly and triggers processive disassembly. These results provide a framework for understanding filament dynamics in more complex T4P systems and the closely related Type II secretion system.


This article was originally published in PLOS Pathogens, available at doi:10.1371/journal.

This article was published under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 4.0)

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