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Neisseria gonorrhoeae PilC expression provides a selective mechanism for structural diversity of pili

, : Neisseria gonorrhoeae PilC expression provides a selective mechanism for structural diversity of pili. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 89(8): 3204-3208

Pili of Neisseria gonorrhoeae undergo both phase and structural variation. Phase variation of gonococcal pili can be caused by a RecA-independent on/off switch in PilC, a protein involved in pilus biogenesis. We show here that spontaneous nonpiliated PilC- derivatives as well as PilC- insertional mutants have also acquired sequence alterations in pilE relative to the pilE gene of the piliated MS11mk(P+)-u parent, so that the pilin produced is processed to soluble S-pilin and can be released into the medium. It is proposed that pilin alterations are selected for in PilC- bacteria if the parental nonassembled pilin is toxic to the cells--i.e., is not degradable to S-pilin at rates sufficient to allow viability of the cells. Toxicity is indicated by the extreme instability of certain unassembled pilin sequences and by the low frequency of nonpiliated, pilin+, PilC- variants that emerge from piliated recA- cells. The presence of a point mutation changing leucine-39 to phenylalanine at the cleavage site for S-pilin in one nonpiliated, PilC-, recA- variant relative to its piliated parent is a further argument for a selective mechanism of structural diversity of the gonococcal pilin.


PMID: 1348857

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.89.8.3204

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