Type VI protein secretion systems (T6SS) are essential for virulence of several Gram-negative bacteria. In this study, we identified a T6SS in Vibrio anguillarum, a marine bacterium that causes a hemorrhagic septicemia in fish. A partial operon vtsA-H (vibrio type six secretion) was sequenced and shown to encode eight proteins. VtsE-H are signature proteins found in other T6SSs, while VtsA-D are not associated with T6SS studied so far. In-frame deletions were made in each gene. Secretion of a haemolysin-co-regulated-like protein (Hcp), a protein secreted by all studied T6SSs, was decreased in VtsE-H. Unexpectedly, VtsA, VtsC and VtsD activated while VtsB and VtsE-H repressed hcp expression. The T6SS proteins also regulated expression of two extracellular proteases, EmpA and PrtV, but inversely to Hcp expression. This regulation was indirect as T6S positively regulated expression of the stress-response regulator RpoS and the quorum-sensing regulator VanT, which positively regulate protease expression. Moreover, VtsA-H proteins were not needed for virulence but did play a role in various stress responses. Thus, these data characterize a new role for T6S in the ecology of bacteria and we hypothesize this role to be a signal sensing mechanism that modulates the expression of regulators of the general stress response.
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