Prime time for minor subunits of the type II secretion and type IV pilus systems


  • Lori L. Burrows

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Diseases Research, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
    Search for more papers by this author

For correspondence. E-mail; Tel. (+1) 905 525 9140 ×22029; Fax (+1) 905 522 9033.


The type II secretion system (T2SS) exports folded proteins from the periplasms of Gram-negative bacteria. The type IV pilus system (T4PS) is a multifunctional machine used for adherence, motility and DNA transfer in bacteria and archaea. Partial sequence identity between the two systems suggests that they are related and might function via a similar mechanism, the dynamic assembly and disassembly of pseudopilus (T2SS) or pilus (T4PS) filaments. The major subunit in each system is thought to form the bulk of the (pseudo)pilus, while minor (low-abundance) subunits have proposed roles in assembly initiation, antagonism of disassembly, or modulation of (pseudo)pilus functional properties. In this issue, Cisneros et al. (2012) extend their previous finding that pseudopilus assembly is primed by the minor pseudopilins, showing that the same proteins can initiate assembly of Escherichia coli T4P. Similarly, they show that the E. coli minor pilins prime the polymerization of T2S pseudopili, although unlike genuine pseudopili, the chimeric filaments did not support secretion. This work reinforces the notion of a common assembly mechanism for the T2S and T4P systems.