Contractile Tail Machines of Bacteriophages

  • Petr G. LeimanEmail author
  • Mikhail M. Shneider
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 726)


Bacteriophages with contractile tails epitomize the concepts of “virus” and “phage” for many because the tails of these phages undergo a large conformational change – resembling the action of a syringe – upon the attachment to the host cell. The contractile tails belong to the recently recognized class of “contractile systems,” which includes phage tails, their close relatives R-type pyocins, the bacterial type VI secretion system, and the virulence cassette of Photorhabdus. Their function is to deliver large proteins and/or DNA into the cytoplasm of a bacterial or eukaryotic cell. The structure of the core components of all contractile tail-like systems is conserved, but the corresponding genes have diverged to such a degree that the common ancestry can no longer be easily detected at the level of amino acid sequence. At present, it is unclear, whether the contractile systems originated in bacteria or in phages. This chapter describes the structure and function of phage contractile tails and compares them with other phage tails and with other known contractile systems.


Tail Fiber T6SS Gene Gp18 Subunit Phage Tail Tape Measure Protein 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to express our sincere thank you to Prof. Michael Rossmann and Prof. Venigalla Rao, the editors of this book, for choosing the perfect timing in organizing this volume. This book was a unique opportunity for many scientists to summarize and publish the information, which was understood by many in the field because it was presented at conferences, but has never been published. We are very grateful to Prof. Rao for his great efforts in persuading the contributors to produce interesting chapters and, at the same time, keeping the entire project to a reasonable deadline.

Discussions with Prof. Alan Davidson, Prof. Ian Molineux, and Dr. Anastasia Aksyuk were extremely useful in preparation of this manuscript. We are very grateful to Prof. Liang Tong for sharing the coordinates of one of the sheath proteins prior to the publication of the paper describing the crystal structure.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de physique des systèmes biologiquesEcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)LausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic ChemistryMoscowRussia

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