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1.  Conservation of Structure and Protein-Protein Interactions Mediated by the Secreted Mycobacterial Proteins EsxA, EsxB, and EspA▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(1):326-335.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis EsxA and EsxB proteins are founding members of the WXG100 (WXG) protein family, characterized by their small size (∼100 amino acids) and conserved WXG amino acid motif. M. tuberculosis contains 11 tandem pairs of WXG genes; each gene pair is thought to be coexpressed to form a heterodimer. The precise role of these proteins in the biology of M. tuberculosis is unknown, but several of the heterodimers are secreted, which is important for virulence. However, WXG proteins are not simply virulence factors, since nonpathogenic mycobacteria also express and secrete these proteins. Here we show that three WXG heterodimers have structures and properties similar to those of the M. tuberculosis EsxBA (MtbEsxBA) heterodimer, regardless of their host species and apparent biological function. Biophysical studies indicate that the WXG proteins from M. tuberculosis (EsxG and EsxH), Mycobacterium smegmatis (EsxA and EsxB), and Corynebacterium diphtheriae (EsxA and EsxB) are heterodimers and fold into a predominately α-helical structure. An in vivo protein-protein interaction assay was modified to identify proteins that interact specifically with the native WXG100 heterodimer. MtbEsxA and MtbEsxB were fused into a single polypeptide, MtbEsxBA, to create a biomimetic bait for the native heterodimer. The MtbEsxBA bait showed specific association with several esx-1-encoded proteins and EspA, a virulence protein secreted by ESX-1. The MtbEsxBA fusion peptide was also utilized to identify residues in both EsxA and EsxB that are important for establishing protein interactions with Rv3871 and EspA. Together, the results are consistent with a model in which WXG proteins perform similar biological roles in virulent and nonvirulent species.
PMCID: PMC2798242  PMID: 19854905
2.  Secretion of atypical protein subtrates by the ESAT-6 Secretion System of Staphylococcus aureus 
Molecular microbiology  2013;90(4):734-743.
Staphylococcus aureus encodes the specialized ESAT-6 Secretion System (ESS). EsxA and EsxB are secreted by the ESS pathway, and share sequence features of ESAT-6 and CFP-10 of the Type VII Secretion System (T7SS) of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Unlike ESAT-6 and CFP-10, EsxA and EsxB do not interact. Instead, EsxB associates with a novel substrate, EsxD, and EsxA dimerizes with itself or EsxC (EsaC). Unlike EsxA and EsxB, EsxC and EsxD do not share obvious sequence features of WXG100 proteins nor PE/PPE and Esp families of proteins, all of which belong to the pfam EsxAB clan of mycobacterial T7SS. EsxD carries the C terminal motif YxxxD/E that has been proposed to target T7 substrates for secretion in mycobacteria. Here, we find that deletion, but not amino acid substitutions, in this motif prevent secretion of EsxA and EsxC but not EsxB or EsxD. This is unlike the genetic inactivation of esxA, esxB, esxC or esxD that leads to loss of secretion of all four substrates. Thus, substrate secretion can be uncoupled by deleting the last six amino acids of EsxD. The physical association of EsxC and EsxD with canonical WXG100 proteins suggests that these proteins belong to the EsxAB clan.
PMCID: PMC3951145  PMID: 24033479
3.  WXG100 Protein Superfamily Consists of Three Subfamilies and Exhibits an α-Helical C-Terminal Conserved Residue Pattern 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89313.
Members of the WXG100 protein superfamily form homo- or heterodimeric complexes. The most studied proteins among them are the secreted T-cell antigens CFP-10 (10 kDa culture filtrate protein, EsxB) and ESAT-6 (6 kDa early secreted antigen target, EsxA) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. They are encoded on an operon within a gene cluster, named as ESX-1, that encodes for the Type VII secretion system (T7SS). WXG100 proteins are secreted in a full-length form and it is known that they adopt a four-helix bundle structure. In the current work we discuss the evolutionary relationship between the homo- and heterodimeric WXG100 proteins, the basis of the oligomeric state and the key structural features of the conserved sequence pattern of WXG100 proteins. We performed an iterative bioinformatics analysis of the WXG100 protein superfamily and correlated this with the atomic structures of the representative WXG100 proteins. We find, firstly, that the WXG100 protein superfamily consists of three subfamilies: CFP-10-, ESAT-6- and sagEsxA-like proteins (EsxA proteins similar to that of Streptococcus agalactiae). Secondly, that the heterodimeric complexes probably evolved from a homodimeric precursor. Thirdly, that the genes of hetero-dimeric WXG100 proteins are always encoded in bi-cistronic operons and finally, by combining the sequence alignments with the X-ray data we identify a conserved C-terminal sequence pattern. The side chains of these conserved residues decorate the same side of the C-terminal α-helix and therefore form a distinct surface. Our results lead to a putatively extended T7SS secretion signal which combines two reported T7SS recognition characteristics: Firstly that the T7SS secretion signal is localized at the C-terminus of T7SS substrates and secondly that the conserved residues YxxxD/E are essential for T7SS activity. Furthermore, we propose that the specific α-helical surface formed by the conserved sequence pattern including YxxxD/E motif is a key component of T7SS-substrate recognition.
PMCID: PMC3935865  PMID: 24586681
4.  Characterization of EssB, a protein required for secretion of ESAT-6 like proteins in Staphylococcus aureus  
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:219.
Staphylococcus aureus secretes EsxA and EsxB, two small polypeptides of the WXG100 family of proteins. Genetic analyses have shown that production and secretion of EsxA and EsxB require an intact ESAT-6 Secretion System (ESS), a cluster of genes that is conserved in many Firmicutes and encompasses esxA and esxB . Here, we characterize EssB, one of the proteins encoded by the ESS cluster. EssB is highly conserved in Gram-positive bacteria and belongs to the Cluster of Orthologous Groups of protein COG4499 with no known function.
By generating an internal deletion in essB , we demonstrate that EssB is required for secretion of EsxA. We use a polyclonal antibody to identify EssB and show that the protein fractionates with the plasma membrane of S. aureus . Yet, when produced in Escherichia coli, EssB remains mostly soluble and the purified protein assembles into a highly organized oligomer that can be visualized by electron microscopy. Production of truncated EssB variants in wild-type S. aureus confers a dominant negative phenotype on EsxA secretion.
The data presented here support the notion that EssB may oligomerize and interact with other membrane components to form the WXG100-specific translocon in S. aureus .
PMCID: PMC3489787  PMID: 23006124
ESAT-6 secretion; ESS; WXG100; EssB; Type 7 secretion; Staphylococcus aureus
5.  EsxB, a secreted protein from Bacillus anthracis forms two distinct helical bundles 
The EsxB protein from Bacillus anthracis belongs to the WXG100 family, a group of proteins secreted by a specialized secretion system. We have determined the crystal structures of recombinant EsxB and discovered that the small protein (∼10 kDa), comprised of a helix-loop-helix (HLH) hairpin, is capable of associating into two different helical bundles. The two basic quaternary assemblies of EsxB are an antiparallel (AP) dimer and a rarely observed bisecting U (BU) dimer. This structural duality of EsxB is believed to originate from the heptad repeat sequence diversity of the first helix of its HLH hairpin, which allows for two alternative helix packing. The flexibility of EsxB and the ability to form alternative helical bundles underscore the possibility that this protein can serve as an adaptor in secretion and can form hetero-oligomeric helix bundle(s) with other secreted members of the WXG100 family, such as EsxW. The highly conserved WXG motif is located within the loop of the HLH hairpin and is mostly buried within the helix bundle suggesting that its role is mainly structural. The exact functions of the motif, including a proposed role as a secretion signal, remain unknown.
PMCID: PMC4570534  PMID: 26032645
type VII secretion system; ESAT-6 like secretion system; WXG family; EsxB; helix bundle; antiparallel dimer; bisecting U dimer; tetramer
6.  EsxB, a secreted protein from B acillus anthracis forms two distinct helical bundles 
The EsxB protein from Bacillus anthracis belongs to the WXG100 family, a group of proteins secreted by a specialized secretion system. We have determined the crystal structures of recombinant EsxB and discovered that the small protein (∼10 kDa), comprised of a helix‐loop‐helix (HLH) hairpin, is capable of associating into two different helical bundles. The two basic quaternary assemblies of EsxB are an antiparallel (AP) dimer and a rarely observed bisecting U (BU) dimer. This structural duality of EsxB is believed to originate from the heptad repeat sequence diversity of the first helix of its HLH hairpin, which allows for two alternative helix packing. The flexibility of EsxB and the ability to form alternative helical bundles underscore the possibility that this protein can serve as an adaptor in secretion and can form hetero‐oligomeric helix bundle(s) with other secreted members of the WXG100 family, such as EsxW. The highly conserved WXG motif is located within the loop of the HLH hairpin and is mostly buried within the helix bundle suggesting that its role is mainly structural. The exact functions of the motif, including a proposed role as a secretion signal, remain unknown.
PDB Code(s): 4J10
PDB Code(s): 4IYI
PDB Code(s): 4J42
PDB Code(s): 4J41
PMCID: PMC4570534  PMID: 26032645
type VII secretion system; ESAT‐6 like secretion system; WXG family; EsxB; helix bundle; antiparallel dimer; bisecting U dimer; tetramer
7.  ESAT-6-Like Protein Secretion in Bacillus anthracis▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(21):7004-7011.
Proteins of the WXG100 family represent the prototypical substrates of bacterial type VII secretion systems that typically encompass 100 residues, lack canonical signal peptides, and form helix-turn-helix hairpin structures with WXG positioned in the turn element. Bacillus anthracis encodes six WXG100 proteins, herein referred to as EsxB, EsxL, EsxP, EsxQ, EsxV, and EsxW. With the exception of EsxB, B. anthracis proteins harbor C-terminal extensions that are appended to canonical WXG domains. When cultured in liquid broth, B. anthracis secretes two substrates, EsxB and EsxW, into the extracellular environment. EsxB is required for the stability and secretion of EsxW; however, EsxW is dispensable for EsxB secretion. In agreement with the hypothesis that EsxB binding to substrates promotes recognition and secretion by the type VII pathway, EsxB is reported to interact with EsxB and EsxW. Unlike deletions in mycobacterial EsxB, deletion of five N- or C-terminal residues does not affect the ability of mutant B. anthracis EsxB to travel the type VII pathway and initiate secretion of EsxW. Translational fusion of ubiquitin to the N or C terminus of EsxB also had no effect, while ubiquitin insertion into the center turn abrogated secretion. Anthrax-infected guinea pigs mounted humoral immune responses to EsxB, EsxP, and EsxW, which suggests that B. anthracis activates the type VII secretion pathway during infection.
PMCID: PMC2580693  PMID: 18723613
8.  Staphylococcal Esx Proteins Modulate Apoptosis and Release of Intracellular Staphylococcus aureus during Infection in Epithelial Cells 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(10):4144-4153.
The opportunistic pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is one of the major causes of health care-associated infections. S. aureus is primarily an extracellular pathogen, but it was recently reported to invade and replicate in several host cell types. The ability of S. aureus to persist within cells has been implicated in resistance to antimicrobials and recurrent infections. However, few staphylococcal proteins that mediate intracellular survival have been identified. Here we examine if EsxA and EsxB, substrates of the ESAT-6-like secretion system (Ess), are important during intracellular S. aureus infection. The Esx proteins are required for staphylococcal virulence, but their functions during infection are unclear. While isogenic S. aureus esxA and esxB mutants were not defective for epithelial cell invasion in vitro, a significant increase in early/late apoptosis was observed in esxA mutant-infected cells compared to wild-type-infected cells. Impeding secretion of EsxA by deleting C-terminal residues of the protein also resulted in a significant increase of epithelial cell apoptosis. Furthermore, cells transfected with esxA showed an increased protection from apoptotic cell death. A double mutant lacking both EsxA and EsxB also induced increased apoptosis but, remarkably, was unable to escape from cells as efficiently as the single mutants or the wild type. Thus, using in vitro models of intracellular staphylococcal infection, we demonstrate that EsxA interferes with host cell apoptotic pathways and, together with EsxB, mediates the release of S. aureus from the host cell.
PMCID: PMC4187876  PMID: 25047846
9.  EsaD, a Secretion Factor for the Ess Pathway in Staphylococcus aureus▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(7):1583-1589.
Staphylococcus aureus encodes the Sec-independent Ess secretion pathway, an ortholog of mycobacterial T7 secretion systems which is required for the virulence of this Gram-positive microbe. The Ess (ESX secretion) pathway was previously defined as a genomic cluster of eight genes, esxA, esaA, essA, essB, esaB, essC, esaC, and esxB. essABC encode membrane proteins involved in the stable expression of esxA, esxB, and esaC, genes specifying three secreted polypeptide substrates. esaB, which encodes a small cytoplasmic protein, represses the synthesis of EsaC but not that of EsxA and EsxB. Here we investigated a hitherto uncharacterized gene, esaD, located downstream of esxB. Expression of esaD is activated by mutations in esaB and essB. EsaD, the 617-amino-acid product of esaD, is positioned in the membrane and is also accessible to EsaD-specific antibodies on the bacterial surface. S. aureus mutants lacking esaD are defective in the secretion of EsxA. Following intravenous inoculation of mice, S. aureus esaD mutants generate fewer abscesses with a reduced bacterial load compared to wild-type parent strain Newman. The chromosomes of Listeria and Bacillus species with Ess pathways also harbor esaD homologues downstream of esxB, suggesting that the contributory role of EsaD in Ess secretion may be shared among Gram-positive pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3067666  PMID: 21278286
10.  A β-Lactamase Based Reporter System for ESX Dependent Protein Translocation in Mycobacteria 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35453.
Protein secretion is essential for all bacteria in order to interact with their environment. Mycobacterium tuberculosis depends on protein secretion to subvert host immune response mechanisms. Both the general secretion system (Sec) and the twin-arginine translocation system (Tat) are functional in mycobacteria. Furthermore, a novel type of protein translocation system named ESX has been identified. In the genome of M. tuberculosis five paralogous ESX regions (ESX-1 to ESX-5) have been found. Several components of the ESX translocation apparatus have been identified over the last ten years. The ESX regions are composed of a basic set of genes for the translocation machinery and the main substrate - a heterodimer. The best studied of these heterodimers is EsxA (ESAT-6)/EsxB (CFP-10), which has been shown to be exported by ESX-1. EsxA/B is heavily involved in virulence of M. tuberculosis. EsxG/H is exported by ESX-3 and seems to be involved in an essential iron-uptake mechanism in M. tuberculosis. These findings make ESX-3 components high profile drug targets. Until now, reporter systems for determination of ESX protein translocation have not been developed. In order to create such a reporter system, a truncated β-lactamase (‘bla TEM-1) was fused to the N-terminus of EsxB, EsxG and EsxU, respectively. These constructs have then been tested in a β-lactamase (BlaS) deletion strain of Mycobacterium smegmatis. M. smegmatis ΔblaS is highly susceptible to ampicillin. An ampicillin resistant phenotype was conferred by translocation of Bla TEM-1-Esx fusion proteins into the periplasm. BlaTEM-1-Esx fusion proteins were not found in the culture filtrate suggesting that plasma membrane translocation and outer membrane translocation are two distinct steps in ESX secretion. Thus we have developed a powerful tool to dissect the molecular mechanisms of ESX dependent protein translocation and to screen for novel components of the ESX systems on a large scale.
PMCID: PMC3329429  PMID: 22530024
11.  Correlation of Phenotypic Profiles Using Targeted Proteomics Identifies Mycobacterial Esx-1 Substrates 
Journal of Proteome Research  2014;13(11):5151-5164.
The Esx/WXG-100 (ESAT-6/Wss) exporters are multiprotein complexes that promote protein translocation across the cytoplasmic membrane in a diverse range of pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacterial species. The Esx-1 (ESAT-6 System-1) system mediates virulence factor translocation in mycobacterial pathogens, including the human pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although several genes have been associated with Esx-1-mediated transport and virulence, the contribution of individual Esx-1 genes to export is largely undefined. A unique aspect of Esx-1 export is that several substrates require each other for export/stability. We exploited substrate “codependency” to identify Esx-1 substrates. We simultaneously quantified changes in the levels of 13 Esx-1 proteins from both secreted and cytosolic protein fractions generated from 16 Esx-1-deficient Mycobacterium marinum strains in a single experiment using MRM/SRM targeted mass spectrometry. This expansion of measurable Esx-1 proteins allowed us to define statistical rules for assigning novel substrates using phenotypic profiles of known Esx-1 substrates. Using this approach, we identified three additional Esx-1 substrates encoded by the esx-1 region. Our studies begin to address how disruption of specific genes affects several proteins in the Esx-1 complex. Overall, our findings illuminate relationships between Esx-1 proteins and create a framework for the identification of secreted substrates applicable to other protein exporters and pathways.
PMCID: PMC4227905  PMID: 25106450
targeted proteomics; secretion; Esx-1; Mycobacterium marinum; EsxA; RD1; MRM/SRM; substrate identification
12.  Opposing roles of σB and σB-controlled SpoVG in the global regulation of esxA in Staphylococcus aureus 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:17.
The production of virulence factors in Staphylococcus aureus is tightly controlled by a complex web of interacting regulators. EsxA is one of the virulence factors that are excreted by the specialized, type VII-like Ess secretion system of S. aureus. The esxA gene is part of the σB-dependent SpoVG subregulon. However, the mode of action of SpoVG and its impact on other global regulators acting on esxA transcription is as yet unknown.
We demonstrate that the transcription of esxA is controlled by a regulatory cascade involving downstream σB-dependent regulatory elements, including the staphylococcal accessory regulator SarA, the ArlRS two-component system and SpoVG. The esxA gene, preceding the ess gene cluster, was shown to form a monocistronic transcript that is driven by a σA promoter, whereas a putative σB promoter identified upstream of the σA promoter was shown to be inactive. Transcription of esxA was strongly upregulated upon either sarA or sigB inactivation, but decreased in agr, arlR and spoVG single mutants, suggesting that agr, ArlR and SpoVG are able to increase esxA transcription and relieve the repressing effect of the σB-controlled SarA on esxA.
SpoVG is a σB-dependent element that fine-tunes the expression of esxA by counteracting the σB-induced repressing activity of the transcriptional regulator SarA and activates esxA transcription.
PMCID: PMC3313859  PMID: 22272815
13.  Homeostasis of N-α-Terminal Acetylation of EsxA Correlates with Virulence in Mycobacterium marinum 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(11):4572-4586.
The mycobacterial Esx-1 (ESAT-6 system 1) exporter translocates virulence factors across the cytoplasmic membrane to the cell wall, cell surface, and the bacteriological medium in vitro. The mechanisms underlying substrate targeting to distinct locations are unknown. Several Esx-1 substrates are N-α-terminally acetylated. The role of this rare modification in bacteria is unclear. We sought to identify genes required for Esx-1 substrate modification, transport, and localization. Pathogenic mycobacteria lyse Acanthamoeba castellanii in an Esx-1-dependent manner. We conducted a genetic screen to identify Mycobacterium marinum strains which failed to lyse amoebae. We identified a noncytotoxic M. marinum strain with a transposon insertion in a predicted N-α-terminal acetyltransferase not previously linked to mycobacterial pathogenesis. Disruption of this gene led to attenuation of virulence, failure to induce a type I interferon response during macrophage infection, and loss of hemolytic activity. The major Esx-1 substrates, EsxA and EsxB, were exported to the cell surface, but only low levels were released into the bacteriological medium. The balance of EsxA N-α-terminal acetylation was disrupted, resulting in a mycobacterial strain in which surface-associated EsxA was hyperacetylated. Genetic complementation completely restored Esx-1 function and the levels of N-α-terminally acetylated EsxA on the surface but restored only low levels of Esx-1 substrates in the bacteriological medium. Our results reveal a novel gene required for mycobacterial Esx-1 export. Our findings indicate that maintaining the homeostasis of Esx-1 substrate N-α-terminal acetylation is essential for Esx-1-mediated virulence. We propose an inverse correlation between EsxA acetylation and virulence.
PMCID: PMC4249322  PMID: 25135684
14.  The plasmid-mediated evolution of the mycobacterial ESX (Type VII) secretion systems 
The genome of Mycobacterium tuberculosis contains five copies of the ESX gene cluster, each encoding a dedicated protein secretion system. These ESX secretion systems have been defined as a novel Type VII secretion machinery, responsible for the secretion of proteins across the characteristic outer mycomembrane of the mycobacteria. Some of these secretion systems are involved in virulence and survival in M. tuberculosis; however they are also present in other non-pathogenic mycobacteria, and have been identified in some non-mycobacterial actinomycetes. Three components of the ESX gene cluster have also been found clustered in some gram positive monoderm organisms and are predicted to have preceded the ESX gene cluster.
This study used in silico and phylogenetic analyses to describe the evolution of the ESX gene cluster from the WXG-FtsK cluster of monoderm bacteria to the five ESX clusters present in M. tuberculosis and other slow-growing mycobacteria. The ancestral gene cluster, ESX-4, was identified in several nonmycomembrane producing actinobacteria as well as the mycomembrane-containing Corynebacteriales in which the ESX cluster began to evolve and diversify. A novel ESX gene cluster, ESX-4EVOL, was identified in some non-mycobacterial actinomycetes and M. abscessus subsp. bolletii. ESX-4EVOL contains all of the conserved components of the ESX gene cluster and appears to be a precursor of the mycobacterial ESX duplications. Between two and seven ESX gene clusters were identified in each mycobacterial species, with ESX-2 and ESX-5 specifically associated with the slow growers. The order of ESX duplication in the mycobacteria is redefined as ESX-4, ESX-3, ESX-1 and then ESX-2 and ESX-5. Plasmid-encoded precursor ESX gene clusters were identified for each of the genomic ESX-3, -1, -2 and -5 gene clusters, suggesting a novel plasmid-mediated mechanism of ESX duplication and evolution.
The influence of the various ESX gene clusters on vital biological and virulence-related functions has clearly influenced the diversification and success of the various mycobacterial species, and their evolution from the non-pathogenic fast-growing saprophytic to the slow-growing pathogenic organisms.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12862-016-0631-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4791881  PMID: 26979252
ESX; ESAT-6; Evolution; Mycobacterium; Plasmid; Type VII secretion system
15.  EsaC substrate for the ESAT-6 Secretion Pathway and its role in persistent infections of S. aureus 
Molecular microbiology  2008;69(3):736-746.
Staphylococcus aureus encodes the specialized secretion system Ess (ESAT-6 secretion system). The ess locus is a cluster of eight genes (esxAB, essABC, esaABC) of which esxA and esxB display homology to secreted ESAT-6 proteins of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. EsxA and EsxB require EssA, EssB and EssC for transport across the staphylococcal envelope. Herein, we examine the role of EsaB and EsaC and show that EsaB is a negative regulator of EsaC. Further, EsaC production is repressed when staphylococci are grown in broth and increased when staphylococci replicate in serum or infected hosts. EsaB is constitutively produced and remains in the cytoplasm whereas EsaC is secreted. This secretion requires an intact Ess pathway. Mutants lacking esaB or esaC display only a small defect in acute infection, but remarkably are unable to promote persistent abscesses during animal infection. Together, the data suggest a model whereby EsaB controls the production of effector molecules that are important for host pathogen interaction. One such effector, EsaC, is a secretion substrate of the Ess pathway and implements its pathogenic function during infection.
PMCID: PMC2597432  PMID: 18554323
WXG100 proteins; virulence; abscess formation
16.  Essential Role of the ESX-5 Secretion System in Outer Membrane Permeability of Pathogenic Mycobacteria 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(5):e1005190.
Mycobacteria possess different type VII secretion (T7S) systems to secrete proteins across their unusual cell envelope. One of these systems, ESX-5, is only present in slow-growing mycobacteria and responsible for the secretion of multiple substrates. However, the role of ESX-5 substrates in growth and/or virulence is largely unknown. In this study, we show that esx-5 is essential for growth of both Mycobacterium marinum and Mycobacterium bovis. Remarkably, this essentiality can be rescued by increasing the permeability of the outer membrane, either by altering its lipid composition or by the introduction of the heterologous porin MspA. Mutagenesis of the first nucleotide-binding domain of the membrane ATPase EccC5 prevented both ESX-5-dependent secretion and bacterial growth, but did not affect ESX-5 complex assembly. This suggests that the rescuing effect is not due to pores formed by the ESX-5 membrane complex, but caused by ESX-5 activity. Subsequent proteomic analysis to identify crucial ESX-5 substrates confirmed that all detectable PE and PPE proteins in the cell surface and cell envelope fractions were routed through ESX-5. Additionally, saturated transposon-directed insertion-site sequencing (TraDIS) was applied to both wild-type M. marinum cells and cells expressing mspA to identify genes that are not essential anymore in the presence of MspA. This analysis confirmed the importance of esx-5, but we could not identify essential ESX-5 substrates, indicating that multiple of these substrates are together responsible for the essentiality. Finally, examination of phenotypes on defined carbon sources revealed that an esx-5 mutant is strongly impaired in the uptake and utilization of hydrophobic carbon sources. Based on these data, we propose a model in which the ESX-5 system is responsible for the transport of cell envelope proteins that are required for nutrient uptake. These proteins might in this way compensate for the lack of MspA-like porins in slow-growing mycobacteria.
Author Summary
Mycobacteria have a thick protective outer membrane that helps them to withstand adverse conditions both outside and within the host. However, in order to cause disease, the bacterium also needs to secrete proteins across this outer membrane. To achieve this, mycobacteria possess so-called type VII secretion systems. One of these systems, the ESX-5 secretion system, is only present in the group of slow-growing mycobacteria, which contains most pathogenic species. In this study, we show that the ESX-5 system is essential for growth of mycobacteria. We found that when we generated a ‘leaky’ outer membrane, by interfering in the construction of the outer membrane, or by introducing an outer membrane porin, the ESX-5 system was no longer essential for growth. We additionally show that ESX-5 mediates uptake of fatty acids, which suggests that ESX-5 substrates can form specific transport systems or pores in the outer membrane required for the uptake of crucial nutrients. Understanding the role of ESX-5 in outer membrane permeability helps us to understand a fundamental difference between fast-growing and slow-growing mycobacteria. Since most pathogenic mycobacteria are slow-growing this helps us to understand the mycobacterial requirements for pathogenesis in more detail.
PMCID: PMC4418733  PMID: 25938982
17.  EsxA might as a virulence factor induce antibodies in patients with Staphylococcus aureus infection 
Brazilian Journal of Microbiology  2013;44(1):267-271.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is an important human pathogen, which commonly causes the acquired infectious diseases in the hospital and community. Effective and simple antibiotic treatment against S. aureus-related disease becomes increasingly difficult. Developing a safe and effective vaccine against S. aureus has become one of the world’s hot spots once again. The key issue of developing the vaccine of S. aureus is how to find an ideal key pathogenic gene of S. aureus. It was previously suggested that EsxA might be a very important factor in S. aureus abscess formation in mice, but clinical experimental evidence was lacking. We therefore expressed EsxA protein through prokaryotic expression system and purified EsxA protein by Ni-affinity chromatography. ELISA was used to detect the anti-EsxA antibodies in sera of 78 patients with S. aureus infection and results showed that the anti-EsxA antibodies were positive in the sera of 19 patients. We further analyzed the EsxA positive antibodies related strains by antimicrobial susceptibility assay and found that all of the corresponding strains were multi-drug resistant. Among those multi-drug resistant strains, 73.7% were resistant to MRSA. The results indicated EsxA is very important in the pathogenesis of S. aureus. We suggested that the EsxA is very valuable as vaccine candidate target antigens for prevention and control of S. aureus infection.
PMCID: PMC3804208  PMID: 24159314
S. aureus; esxA; anti-EsxA antibodies; multi-drug resistant
18.  The homodimeric GBS1074 from Streptococcus agalactiae  
The homodimeric nature of the ESAT-6 homologue GBS1074 and the potential for fibre-like assemblies are revealed by the 2 Å resolution crystal structure.
ESAT-6 is a well characterized secreted protein from Mycobacterium tuberculosis and represents the archetype of the WXG100 family of proteins. Genes encoding ESAT-6 homologues have been identified in the genome of the human pathogen Streptococcus agalactiae; one of these genes, esxA, has been cloned and the recombinant protein has been crystallized. In contrast to M. tuberculosis ESAT-6, the crystal structure of GBS1074 reveals a homo­dimeric structure similar to homologous structures from Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori. Intriguingly, GBS1074 forms elongated fibre-like assemblies in the crystal structure.
PMCID: PMC3001639  PMID: 21045286
ESAT-6; WXG100; GBS1074; four-helix bundle
19.  Solution Structure of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis EsxG·EsxH Complex 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2011;286(34):29993-30002.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis encodes five type VII secretion systems that are responsible for exporting a number of proteins, including members of the Esx family, which have been linked to tuberculosis pathogenesis and survival within host cells. The gene cluster encoding ESX-3 is regulated by the availability of iron and zinc, and secreted protein products such as the EsxG·EsxH complex have been associated with metal ion acquisition. EsxG and EsxH have previously been shown to form a stable 1:1 heterodimeric complex, and here we report the solution structure of the complex, which features a core four-helix bundle decorated at both ends by long, highly flexible, N- and C-terminal arms that contain a number of highly conserved residues. Despite clear similarities in the overall backbone fold to the EsxA·EsxB complex, the structure reveals some striking differences in surface features, including a potential protein interaction site on the surface of the EsxG·EsxH complex. EsxG·EsxH was also found to contain a specific Zn2+ binding site formed from a cluster of histidine residues on EsxH, which are conserved across obligate mycobacterial pathogens including M. tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae. This site may reflect an essential role in zinc ion acquisition or point to Zn2+-dependent regulation of its interaction with functional partner proteins. Overall, the surface features of both the EsxG·EsxH and the EsxA·EsxB complexes suggest functions mediated via interactions with one or more target protein partners.
PMCID: PMC3191040  PMID: 21730061
Bacteria; NMR; Protein Structure; Secretion; Zinc; EsxG/EsxH; Pathogenesis; Tuberculosis
20.  A Novel ESX-1 Locus Reveals that Surface-Associated ESX-1 Substrates Mediate Virulence in Mycobacterium marinum 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(10):1877-1888.
EsxA (ESAT-6) and EsxB (CFP-10) are virulence factors exported by the ESX-1 system in mycobacterial pathogens. In Mycobacterium marinum, an established model for ESX-1 secretion in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, genes required for ESX-1 export reside at the extended region of difference 1 (RD1) locus. In this study, a novel locus required for ESX-1 export in M. marinum was identified outside the RD1 locus. An M. marinum strain bearing a transposon-insertion between the MMAR_1663 and MMAR_1664 genes exhibited smooth-colony morphology, was deficient for ESX-1 export, was nonhemolytic, and was attenuated for virulence. Genetic complementation revealed a restoration of colony morphology and a partial restoration of virulence in cell culture models. Yet hemolysis and the export of ESX-1 substrates into the bacteriological medium in vitro as measured by both immunoblotting and quantitative proteomics were not restored. We show that genetic complementation of the transposon insertion strain partially restored the translocation of EsxA and EsxB to the mycobacterial cell surface. Our findings indicate that the export of EsxA and EsxB to the cell surface, rather than secretion into the bacteriological medium, correlates with virulence in M. marinum. Together, these findings not only expand the known genetic loci required for ESX-1 secretion in M. marinum but also provide an explanation for the observed disparity between in vitro ESX-1 export and virulence.
PMCID: PMC4011007  PMID: 24610712
21.  Virulence Regulator EspR of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Is a Nucleoid-Associated Protein 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(3):e1002621.
The principal virulence determinant of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the ESX-1 protein secretion system, is positively controlled at the transcriptional level by EspR. Depletion of EspR reportedly affects a small number of genes, both positively or negatively, including a key ESX-1 component, the espACD operon. EspR is also thought to be an ESX-1 substrate. Using EspR-specific antibodies in ChIP-Seq experiments (chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by ultra-high throughput DNA sequencing) we show that EspR binds to at least 165 loci on the Mtb genome. Included in the EspR regulon are genes encoding not only EspA, but also EspR itself, the ESX-2 and ESX-5 systems, a host of diverse cell wall functions, such as production of the complex lipid PDIM (phenolthiocerol dimycocerosate) and the PE/PPE cell-surface proteins. EspR binding sites are not restricted to promoter regions and can be clustered. This suggests that rather than functioning as a classical regulatory protein EspR acts globally as a nucleoid-associated protein capable of long-range interactions consistent with a recently established structural model. EspR expression was shown to be growth phase-dependent, peaking in the stationary phase. Overexpression in Mtb strain H37Rv revealed that EspR influences target gene expression both positively or negatively leading to growth arrest. At no stage was EspR secreted into the culture filtrate. Thus, rather than serving as a specific activator of a virulence locus, EspR is a novel nucleoid-associated protein, with both architectural and regulatory roles, that impacts cell wall functions and pathogenesis through multiple genes.
Author Summary
A major infection mechanism employed by the causative agent of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), is the ESX-1 secretion system. It has been postulated that the DNA-binding protein EspR controls the virulence of Mtb by specifically regulating expression of the exported EspA protein, which is required for ESX-1 to function. Previous structural studies indicated that EspR forms dimers capable of multimerizing on DNA and forming loop structures, thus bringing together otherwise distant chromosomal regions. Such characteristics are reminiscent of nucleoid-associated proteins (NAPs), the histone equivalent in bacteria. Here we use ChIP-Seq technology to map EspR binding sites on the Mtb chromosome in living bacterial cells. Genome-wide analysis of EspR identified hundreds of binding-sites, with almost equal inter- and intra-genic distribution, and mostly found in proximity to genes associated with cell wall function. We validated a subset of EspR-binding sites experimentally and identified a consensus motif required for optimal binding affinity. Moreover, our study reveals that EspR expression varies with bacterial growth and that intracellular levels are not linked to EspR secretion. These findings corroborate the NAP nature of EspR and its dual roles, architectural and regulatory, that impact the Mtb chromosome and pathogenesis globally rather than the ESX-1 loci specifically.
PMCID: PMC3315491  PMID: 22479184
22.  Recombinant ESAT-6-Like Proteins Provoke Protective Immune Responses against Invasive Staphylococcus aureus Disease in a Murine Model 
Infection and Immunity  2014;83(1):339-345.
Staphylococcus aureus is a common pathogen found in the community and in hospitals. Most notably, methicillin-resistant S. aureus is resistant to many antibiotics, which is a growing public health concern. The emergence of drug-resistant strains has prompted the search for alternative treatments, such as immunotherapeutic approaches. To date, most clinical trials of vaccines or of passive immunization against S. aureus have ended in failure. In this study, we investigated two ESAT-6-like proteins secreted by S. aureus, S. aureus EsxA (SaEsxA) and SaEsxB, as possible targets for a vaccine. Mice vaccinated with these purified proteins elicited high titers of anti-SaEsxA and anti-SaEsxB antibodies, but these antibodies could not prevent S. aureus infection. On the other hand, recombinant SaEsxA (rSaEsxA) and rSaEsxB could induce Th1- and Th17-biased immune responses in mice. Mice immunized with rSaEsxA and rSaEsxB had significantly improved survival rates when challenged with S. aureus compared with the controls. These findings indicate that SaEsxA and SaEsxB are two promising Th1 and Th17 candidate antigens which could be developed into multivalent and serotype-independent vaccines against S. aureus infection.
PMCID: PMC4288882  PMID: 25368117
23.  Structure of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis type VII secretion system chaperone EspG5 in complex with PE25–PPE41 dimer 
Molecular microbiology  2014;94(2):367-382.
The growth or virulence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacilli depends on homologous type VII secretion systems, ESX-1, ESX-3 and ESX-5, which export a number of protein effectors across membranes to the bacterial surface and environment. PE and PPE proteins represent two large families of highly polymorphic proteins that are secreted by these ESX systems. Recently, it was shown that these proteins require system-specific cytoplasmic chaperones for secretion. Here, we report the crystal structure of M. tuberculosis ESX-5-secreted PE25–PPE41 heterodimer in complex with the cytoplasmic chaperone EspG5. EspG5 represents a novel fold that is unrelated to previously characterized secretion chaperones. Functional analysis of the EspG5-binding region uncovered a hydrophobic patch on PPE41 that promotes dimer aggregation, and the chaperone effectively abolishes this process. We show that PPE41 contains a characteristic chaperone-binding sequence, the hh motif, which is highly conserved among ESX-1-, ESX-3- and ESX-5-specific PPE proteins. Disrupting the interaction between EspG5 and three different PPE target proteins by introducing different point mutations generally affected protein secretion. We further demonstrate that the EspG5 chaperone plays an important role in the ESX secretion mechanism by keeping aggregation-prone PE–PPE proteins in their soluble state.
PMCID: PMC4192059  PMID: 25155747
EspG; ESX; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Type VII Secretion System
24.  Heterogeneity in ess transcriptional organization and variable contribution of the Ess/Type VII protein secretion system to virulence across closely related Staphylocccus aureus strains 
Molecular Microbiology  2014;93(5):928-943.
The Type VII protein secretion system, found in Gram-positive bacteria, secretes small proteins, containing a conserved W-x-G amino acid sequence motif, to the growth medium. Staphylococcus aureus has a conserved Type VII secretion system, termed Ess, which is dispensable for laboratory growth but required for virulence. In this study we show that there are unexpected differences in the organization of the ess gene cluster between closely related strains of S. aureus. We further show that in laboratory growth medium different strains of S. aureus secrete the EsxA and EsxC substrate proteins at different growth points, and that the Ess system in strain Newman is inactive under these conditions. Systematic deletion analysis in S. aureus RN6390 is consistent with the EsaA, EsaB, EssA, EssB, EssC and EsxA proteins comprising core components of the secretion machinery in this strain. Finally we demonstrate that the Ess secretion machinery of two S. aureus strains, RN6390 and COL, is important for nasal colonization and virulence in the murine lung pneumonia model. Surprisingly, however, the secretion system plays no role in the virulence of strain SA113 under the same conditions.
PMCID: PMC4285178  PMID: 25040609
25.  A Mycobacterium ESX-1–Secreted Virulence Factor with Unique Requirements for Export 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(8):e105.
Specialized secretion systems of pathogenic bacteria commonly transport multiple effectors that act in concert to control and exploit the host cell as a replication-permissive niche. Both the Mycobacterium marinum and the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genomes contain an extended region of difference 1 (extRD1) locus that encodes one such pathway, the early secretory antigenic target 6 (ESAT-6) system 1 (ESX-1) secretion apparatus. ESX-1 is required for virulence and for secretion of the proteins ESAT-6, culture filtrate protein 10 (CFP-10), and EspA. Here, we show that both Rv3881c and its M. marinum homolog, Mh3881c, are secreted proteins, and disruption of RD1 in either organism blocks secretion. We have renamed the Rv3881c/Mh3881c gene espB for ESX-1 substrate protein B. Secretion of M. marinum EspB (EspBM) requires both the Mh3879c and Mh3871 genes within RD1, while CFP-10 secretion is not affected by disruption of Mh3879c. In contrast, disruption of Mh3866 or Mh3867 within the extRD1 locus prevents CFP-10 secretion without effect on EspBM. Mutants that fail to secrete only EspBM or only CFP-10 are less attenuated in macrophages than mutants failing to secrete both substrates. EspBM physically interacts with Mh3879c; the M. tuberculosis homolog, EspBT, physically interacts with Rv3879c; and mutants of EspBM that fail to bind Mh3879c fail to be secreted. We also found interaction between Rv3879c and Rv3871, a component of the ESX-1 machine, suggesting a mechanism for the secretion of EspB. The results establish EspB as a substrate of ESX-1 that is required for virulence and growth in macrophages and suggests that the contribution of ESX-1 to virulence may arise from the secretion of multiple independent substrates.
Author Summary
A major mechanism used by pathogenic bacteria for disabling host defenses is secretion of virulence proteins. These effectors are often transported by specialized secretion machines. One such pathway, present in Mycobacterium and other Gram-positive genera, is ESX-1 (early secretory antigenic target 6 system 1). Although ESX-1 is required for multiple phenotypes related to the pathogenesis of infection, only three substrates of the secretion machine have been identified to date, and the mechanism by which these substrates are exported is not understood. In our efforts to understand this virulence-related secretion mechanism, we identified a novel substrate and found that its delivery to the ESX-1 machine requires different protein interactions than previously identified substrates. Finally, we present data that the various ESX-1 substrates contribute additively to virulence. These data are incorporated into a model of ESX-1 function.
PMCID: PMC1937011  PMID: 17676952

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