PilM/N/O/P Proteins Form an Inner Membrane Complex That Affects the Stability of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pilus Secretin
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The highly conserved pilM/N/O/P/Q gene cluster is among the core set of genes required for cell surface expression of type IV pili and associated twitching motility. With the exception of the outer membrane secretin, a multimer of PilQ subunits, the specific functions of the products encoded by this gene cluster are poorly characterized. Orthologous proteins in the related bacterial type II secretion system have been shown to interact to form an inner membrane complex required for protein secretion. In this study, we provide evidence that the PilM/N/O/P proteins form a functionally equivalent type IVa pilus complex. Using Pseudomonas aeruginosa as model organism, we found that all four proteins, including the nominally cytoplasmic PilM, colocalized to the inner membrane. Stability studies via Western blot analyses revealed that loss of one component has a negative impact on the levels of other members of the putative complex. Furthermore, complementation studies revealed that the stoichiometry of the components is important for the correct formation of a stable complex in vivo. We provide evidence that an intact inner membrane complex is required for optimal formation of the outer membrane complex of the type IVa pilus system in P. aeruginosa, as PilQ stability is negatively affected in its absence. Finally, we show that, in the absence of the pilin subunit, the levels of membrane-bound components of the inner membrane complex are negatively regulated by the PilR/S two-component system, suggesting a role for PilR/S in sensing the piliation status of the cell.
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