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1.  Biochemical analysis of TssK, a core component of the bacterial Type VI secretion system, reveals distinct oligomeric states of TssK and identifies a TssK–TssFG subcomplex 
Biochemical Journal  2014;461(Pt 2):291-304.
Gram-negative bacteria use the Type VI secretion system (T6SS) to inject toxic proteins into rival bacteria or eukaryotic cells. However, the mechanism of the T6SS is incompletely understood. In the present study, we investigated a conserved component of the T6SS, TssK, using the antibacterial T6SS of Serratia marcescens as a model system. TssK was confirmed to be essential for effector secretion by the T6SS. The native protein, although not an integral membrane protein, appeared to localize to the inner membrane, consistent with its presence within a membrane-anchored assembly. Recombinant TssK purified from S. marcescens was found to exist in several stable oligomeric forms, namely trimer, hexamer and higher-order species. Native-level purification of TssK identified TssF and TssG as interacting proteins. TssF and TssG, conserved T6SS components of unknown function, were required for T6SS activity, but not for correct localization of TssK. A complex containing TssK, TssF and TssG was subsequently purified in vitro, confirming that these three proteins form a new subcomplex within the T6SS. Our findings provide new insight into the T6SS assembly, allowing us to propose a model whereby TssK recruits TssFG into the membrane-associated T6SS complex and different oligomeric states of TssK may contribute to the dynamic mechanism of the system.
Genetic and biochemical analysis of TssK, an essential component of the bacterial Type VI secretion system, revealed that it forms a new subcomplex with two other core components, TssF and TssG, and displays several oligomerization states in vitro.
PMCID: PMC4072051  PMID: 24779861
bacterial protein secretion; native complex isolation; protein oligomerization; Serratia marcescens; Type VI secretion system (T6SS); AAA+, ATPase associated with diverse cellular activities; AUC, analytical ultracentrifugation; DDM, dodecyl maltoside; EAEC, enteroaggregative Escherichia coli; IMAC, immobilized ion-affinity chromatography; MBP, maltose-binding protein; RNAPβ, RNA polymerase β; SE, sedimentation equilibrium; SEC, size-exclusion chromatography; SV, sedimentation velocity; TEV, tobacco etch virus; T6SS, Type VI secretion system
2.  The Catalytic Subunit of the System L1 Amino Acid Transporter (Slc7a5) Facilitates Nutrient Signalling in Mouse Skeletal Muscle 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89547.
The System L1-type amino acid transporter mediates transport of large neutral amino acids (LNAA) in many mammalian cell-types. LNAA such as leucine are required for full activation of the mTOR-S6K signalling pathway promoting protein synthesis and cell growth. The SLC7A5 (LAT1) catalytic subunit of high-affinity System L1 functions as a glycoprotein-associated heterodimer with the multifunctional protein SLC3A2 (CD98). We generated a floxed Slc7a5 mouse strain which, when crossed with mice expressing Cre driven by a global promoter, produced Slc7a5 heterozygous knockout (Slc7a5+/−) animals with no overt phenotype, although homozygous global knockout of Slc7a5 was embryonically lethal. Muscle-specific (MCK Cre-mediated) Slc7a5 knockout (MS-Slc7a5-KO) mice were used to study the role of intracellular LNAA delivery by the SLC7A5 transporter for mTOR-S6K pathway activation in skeletal muscle. Activation of muscle mTOR-S6K (Thr389 phosphorylation) in vivo by intraperitoneal leucine injection was blunted in homozygous MS-Slc7a5-KO mice relative to wild-type animals. Dietary intake and growth rate were similar for MS-Slc7a5-KO mice and wild-type littermates fed for 10 weeks (to age 120 days) with diets containing 10%, 20% or 30% of protein. In MS-Slc7a5-KO mice, Leu and Ile concentrations in gastrocnemius muscle were reduced by ∼40% as dietary protein content was reduced from 30 to 10%. These changes were associated with >50% decrease in S6K Thr389 phosphorylation in muscles from MS-Slc7a5-KO mice, indicating reduced mTOR-S6K pathway activation, despite no significant differences in lean tissue mass between groups on the same diet. MS-Slc7a5-KO mice on 30% protein diet exhibited mild insulin resistance (e.g. reduced glucose clearance, larger gonadal adipose depots) relative to control animals. Thus, SLC7A5 modulates LNAA-dependent muscle mTOR-S6K signalling in mice, although it appears non-essential (or is sufficiently compensated by e.g. SLC7A8 (LAT2)) for maintenance of normal muscle mass.
PMCID: PMC3935884  PMID: 24586861
3.  Structural basis for type VI secreted peptidoglycan dl-endopeptidase function, specificity and neutralization in Serratia marcescens  
Crystal structures of type VI secretion system-associated immunity proteins, a peptidoglycan endopeptidase and a complex of the endopeptidase and its cognate immunity protein are reported together with assays of endopeptidase activity and functional assessment.
Some Gram-negative bacteria target their competitors by exploiting the type VI secretion system to extrude toxic effector proteins. To prevent self-harm, these bacteria also produce highly specific immunity proteins that neutralize these antagonistic effectors. Here, the peptidoglycan endopeptidase specificity of two type VI secretion-system-associated effectors from Serratia marcescens is characterized. These small secreted proteins, Ssp1 and Ssp2, cleave between γ-d-glutamic acid and l-meso-diaminopimelic acid with different specificities. Ssp2 degrades the acceptor part of cross-linked tetratetrapeptides. Ssp1 displays greater promiscuity and cleaves monomeric tripeptides, tetrapeptides and pentapeptides and dimeric tetratetra and tetrapenta muropeptides on both the acceptor and donor strands. Functional assays confirm the identity of a catalytic cysteine in these endopeptidases and crystal structures provide information on the structure–activity relationships of Ssp1 and, by comparison, of related effectors. Functional assays also reveal that neutralization of these effectors by their cognate immunity proteins, which are called resistance-associated proteins (Raps), contributes an essential role to cell fitness. The structures of two immunity proteins, Rap1a and Rap2a, responsible for the neutralization of Ssp1 and Ssp2-like endopeptidases, respectively, revealed two distinct folds, with that of Rap1a not having previously been observed. The structure of the Ssp1–Rap1a complex revealed a tightly bound heteromeric assembly with two effector molecules flanking a Rap1a dimer. A highly effective steric block of the Ssp1 active site forms the basis of effector neutralization. Comparisons with Ssp2–Rap2a orthologues suggest that the specificity of these immunity proteins for neutralizing effectors is fold-dependent and that in cases where the fold is conserved sequence differences contribute to the specificity of effector–immunity protein interactions.
PMCID: PMC3852654  PMID: 24311588
amidases; cysteine proteases; disulfide linkage; effector; endopeptidases; Gram-negative; immunity protein; peptidoglycan; Serratia marcescens; type VI secretion system
4.  The Opportunistic Pathogen Serratia marcescens Utilizes Type VI Secretion To Target Bacterial Competitors ▿† 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(21):6057-6069.
The type VI secretion system (T6SS) is the most recently described and least understood of the protein secretion systems of Gram-negative bacteria. It is widely distributed and has been implicated in the virulence of various pathogens, but its mechanism and exact mode of action remain to be defined. Additionally there have been several very recent reports that some T6SSs can target bacteria rather than eukaryotic cells. Serratia marcescens is an opportunistic enteric pathogen, a class of bacteria responsible for a significant proportion of hospital-acquired infections. We describe the identification of a functional T6SS in S. marcescens strain Db10, the first report of type VI secretion by an opportunist enteric bacterium. The T6SS of S. marcescens Db10 is active, with secretion of Hcp to the culture medium readily detected, and is expressed constitutively under normal growth conditions from a large transcriptional unit. Expression of the T6SS genes did not appear to be dependent on the integrity of the T6SS. The S. marcescens Db10 T6SS is not required for virulence in three nonmammalian virulence models. It does, however, exhibit dramatic antibacterial killing activity against several other bacterial species and is required for S. marcescens to persist in a mixed culture with another opportunist pathogen, Enterobacter cloacae. Importantly, this antibacterial killing activity is highly strain specific, with the S. marcescens Db10 T6SS being highly effective against another strain of S. marcescens with a very similar and active T6SS. We conclude that type VI secretion plays a crucial role in the competitiveness, and thus indirectly the virulence, of S. marcescens and other opportunistic bacterial pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3194891  PMID: 21890705
5.  The structure of Serratia marcescens Lip, a membrane-bound component of the type VI secretion system 
The high-resolution crystal structure of S. marcescens Lip reveals a new member of the transthyretin family of proteins. Lip, a core component of the type VI secretion apparatus, is localized to the outer membrane and is positioned to interact with other proteins forming this complex system.
Lip is a membrane-bound lipoprotein and a core component of the type VI secretion system found in Gram-negative bacteria. The structure of a Lip construct (residues 29–176) from Serratia marcescens (SmLip) has been determined at 1.92 Å resolution. Experimental phases were derived using a single-wavelength anomalous dispersion approach on a sample cocrystallized with iodide. The membrane localization of the native protein was confirmed. The structure is that of the globular domain lacking only the lipoprotein signal peptide and the lipidated N-terminus of the mature protein. The protein fold is dominated by an eight-stranded β-sandwich and identifies SmLip as a new member of the transthyretin family of proteins. Transthyretin and the only other member of the family fold, 5-hydroxyisourate hydrolase, form homo­tetramers important for their function. The asymmetric unit of SmLip is a tetramer with 222 symmetry, but the assembly is distinct from that previously noted for the transthyretin protein family. However, structural comparisons and bacterial two-hybrid data suggest that the SmLip tetramer is not relevant to its role as a core component of the type VI secretion system, but rather reflects a propensity for SmLip to participate in protein–protein interactions. A relatively low level of sequence conservation amongst Lip homologues is noted and is restricted to parts of the structure that might be involved in interactions with physiological partners.
PMCID: PMC3225178  PMID: 22120744
β-sandwich; Gram-negative pathogens; lipoproteins; protein secretion; transthyretin; virulence
6.  New secreted toxins and immunity proteins encoded within the Type VI secretion system gene cluster of Serratia marcescens 
Molecular Microbiology  2012;86(4):921-936.
Protein secretion systems are critical to bacterial virulence and interactions with other organisms. The Type VI secretion system (T6SS) is found in many bacterial species and is used to target either eukaryotic cells or competitor bacteria. However, T6SS-secreted proteins have proven surprisingly elusive. Here, we identified two secreted substrates of the antibacterial T6SS from the opportunistic human pathogen, Serratia marcescens. Ssp1 and Ssp2, both encoded within the T6SS gene cluster, were confirmed as antibacterial toxins delivered by the T6SS. Four related proteins encoded around the Ssp proteins (‘Rap’ proteins) included two specifically conferring self-resistance (‘immunity’) against T6SS-dependent Ssp1 or Ssp2 toxicity. Biochemical characterization revealed specific, tight binding between cognate Ssp–Rap pairs, forming complexes of 2:2 stoichiometry. The atomic structures of two Rap proteins were solved, revealing a novel helical fold, dependent on a structural disulphide bond, a structural feature consistent with their functional localization. Homologues of the Serratia Ssp and Rap proteins are found encoded together within other T6SS gene clusters, thus they represent founder members of new families of T6SS-secreted and cognate immunity proteins. We suggest that Ssp proteins are the original substrates of the S. marcescens T6SS, before horizontal acquisition of other T6SS-secreted toxins. Molecular insight has been provided into how pathogens utilize antibacterial T6SSs to overcome competitors and succeed in polymicrobial niches.
PMCID: PMC3533786  PMID: 22957938

Results 1-6 (6)