eLife (Mar 2022)

Recognition of discrete export signals in early flagellar subunits during bacterial type III secretion

  • Owain J Bryant,
  • Paraminder Dhillon,
  • Colin Hughes,
  • Gillian M Fraser

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11


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Type III Secretion Systems (T3SS) deliver subunits from the bacterial cytosol to nascent cell surface flagella. Early flagellar subunits that form the rod and hook substructures are unchaperoned and contain their own export signals. A gate recognition motif (GRM) docks them at the FlhBc component of the FlhAB-FliPQR export gate, but the gate must then be opened and subunits must be unfolded to pass through the flagellar channel. This induced us to seek further signals on the subunits. Here, we identify a second signal at the extreme N-terminus of flagellar rod and hook subunits and determine that key to the signal is its hydrophobicity. We show that the two export signal elements are recognised separately and sequentially, as the N-terminal signal is recognised by the flagellar export machinery only after subunits have docked at FlhBC via the GRM. The position of the N-terminal hydrophobic signal in the subunit sequence relative to the GRM appeared to be important, as a FlgD deletion variant (FlgDshort), in which the distance between the N-terminal signal and the GRM was shortened, ‘stalled’ at the export machinery and was not exported. The attenuation of motility caused by FlgDshort was suppressed by mutations that destabilised the closed conformation of the FlhAB-FliPQR export gate, suggesting that the hydrophobic N-terminal signal might trigger opening of the flagellar export gate.