A force-dependent switch reverses type IV pilus retraction

Berenike Maier, Michael Koomey, Michael P. Sheetz

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95 Scopus citations


Type IV pilus dynamics is important for virulence, motility, and DNA transfer in a wide variety of prokaryotes. The type IV pilus system constitutes a very robust and powerful molecular machine that transports pilus polymers as well as DNA through the bacterial cell envelope. In Neisseria gonorrhoeae, pilus retraction is a highly irreversible process that depends on PilT, an AAA ATPase family member. However, when levels of PilT are reduced, the application of high external forces (F = 110 ± 10 pN) induces processive pilus elongation. At forces of >50 pN, single pili elongate at a rate of v = 350 ± 50 nm/s. For forces of <50 pN, elongation velocity depends strongly on force and relaxation causes immediate retraction. Both pilus retraction and force-induced elongation can be modeled by chemical kinetics with same step length for the rate-limiting translocation step. The model implies that a force-dependent molecular switch can induce pilus elongation by reversing the retraction mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10961-10966
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 27 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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