PilT2 enhances the speed of gonococcal type IV pilus retraction and of twitching motility


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Type IV pilus (T4P) dynamics is important for various bacterial functions including host cell interaction, surface motility, and horizontal gene transfer. T4P retract rapidly by depolymerization, generating large mechanical force. The gene that encodes the pilus retraction ATPase PilT has multiple paralogues, whose number varies between different bacterial species, but their role in regulating physical parameters of T4P dynamics remains unclear. Here, we address this question in the human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which possesses two pilT paralogues, namely pilT2 and pilU. We show that the speed of twitching motility is strongly reduced in a pilT2 deletion mutant, while directional persistence time and sensitivity of speed to oxygen are unaffected. Using laser tweezers, we found that the speed of single T4P retraction was reduced by a factor of ≈ 2 in a pilT2 deletion strain, whereas pilU deletion showed a minor effect. The maximum force and the probability for switching from retraction to elongation under application of high force were not significantly affected. We conclude that the physical parameters of T4P are fine-tuned through PilT2.