The type III secretion chaperone FlgN regulates flagellar assembly via a negative feedback loop containing its chaperone substrates FlgK and FlgL


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The type III secretion (TTS) chaperones are small proteins that act either as cytoplasmic bodyguards, protecting their secretion substrates from degradation and aggregation, facilitators of their cognate substrate secretion or both. FlgN has been previously shown to be a TTS chaperone for the hook-associated proteins FlgK and FlgL (FlgKL), and a translational regulator of the anti-σ28 factor FlgM. Protein stability assays indicate that a flgN mutation leads to a dramatic decrease in the half-life of intracellular FlgK. However, using gene reporter fusions to flgK we show that a flgN mutation does not affect the translation of a flgK–lacZ fusion. Quantification of FlgM protein levels showed that FlgKL inhibit the positive regulation on flgM translation by FlgN when secretion of FlgKL is inhibited. Suppressors of the motility-defective phenotype of a flgN mutant were isolated and mapped to the clpXP and fliDST loci. Overexpression of flgKL on a plasmid also suppressed the motility defect of a flgN null mutant. These results suggest that FlgN is not required for secretion of FlgKL and that FlgN typifies a class of TTS chaperones that allows for the minimal amount of their substrates expression required in the assembly process by protecting the substrate from proteolysis. Our data leads us to propose a model in which the interaction between FlgN and FlgK or FlgL is a sensing mechanism to determine the stage of flagellar assembly. Furthermore, the interaction between FlgN and FlgK or FlgL inhibits the translational regulation of flgM via FlgN in response to the stage of flagellar assembly.