Structure of the Bacterial Sex F Pilus Reveals an Assembly of a Stoichiometric Protein-Phospholipid Complex.

Tiago R D Costa, Aravindan Ilangovan, Marta Ukleja, Adam Redzej, Joanne M Santini, Terry K Smith, Edward H Egelman, Gabriel Waksman


Conjugative pili are widespread bacterial appendages that play important roles in horizontal gene transfer, in spread of antibiotic resistance genes, and as sites of phage attachment. Among conjugative pili, the F "sex" pilus encoded by the F plasmid is the best functionally characterized, and it is also historically the most important, as the discovery of F-plasmid-mediated conjugation ushered in the era of molecular biology and genetics. Yet, its structure is unknown. Here, we present atomic models of two F family pili, the F and pED208 pili, generated from cryoelectron microscopy reconstructions at 5.0 and 3.6 Å resolution, respectively. These structures reveal that conjugative pili are assemblies of stoichiometric protein-phospholipid units. We further demonstrate that each pilus type binds preferentially to particular phospholipids. These structures provide the molecular basis for F pilus assembly and also shed light on the remarkable properties of conjugative pili in bacterial secretion and phage infection.