Structure of the Vibrio cholerae Type IVb Pilus and stability comparison with the Neisseria gonorrhoeae type IVa pilus.

Juliana Li, Edward H Egelman, Lisa Craig


Type IV pili are multifunctional filaments displayed on many bacterial pathogens. Members of the Type IVa pilus subclass are found on a diverse group of human pathogens, whereas Type IVb pili are found almost exclusively on enteric bacteria. The Type IVa and IVb subclasses are distinguished by differences in the pilin subunits, including the fold of the globular domain. To understand the implications of the distinct pilin folds, we compared the stabilities of pilin subunits and pilus filaments for the Type IVa GC pilus from Neisseria gonorrhoeae and the Type IVb toxin-coregulated pilus (TCP) from Vibrio cholerae. We show that while recombinant TCP pilin is more stable than GC pilin, the GC pili are more resistant to proteolysis, heat and chemical denaturation than TCP, remaining intact in 8 M urea. To understand these differences, we determined the TCP structure by electron microscopy and three-dimensional image reconstruction. TCP have an architecture similar to that of GC pili, with subunits arranged in a right-handed 1-start helix and related by an 8.4-Å axial rise and a 96.8° azimuthal rotation. However, the TCP subunits are not as tightly packed as GC pilins, and the distinct Type IVb pilin fold exposes a segment of the α-helical core of TCP. Hydrophobic interactions dominate for both pilus subtypes, but base stacking by aromatic residues conserved among the Type IVa pilins may contribute to GC pilus stability. The extraordinary stability of GC pili may represent an adaptation of the Type IVa pili to harsh environments and the need to retract against external forces.