Secretion of Chromosomal DNA by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae Type IV Secretion System

  • Melanie M. Callaghan
  • Jan-Hendrik Heilers
  • Chris van der Does
  • Joseph P. DillardEmail author
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 413)


Approximately 80% of Neisseria gonorrhoeae and 17.5% of Neisseria meningitidis clinical isolates carry a ~59 kb genomic island known as the gonococcal genetic island (GGI). About half of the GGI consists of genes encoding a type IV secretion system (T4SS), and most of these genes are clustered in a ~28 kb region at one end of the GGI. Two additional genes (parA and parB) are found at the other end of the island. The remainder of the GGI consists mostly of hypothetical proteins, with several being identified as DNA-binding or DNA-processing proteins. The T4SS genes show similarity to those of the F-plasmid family of conjugation systems, with similarity in gene order and a low but significant level of sequence identity for the encoded proteins. However, several GGI-encoded proteins are unique from the F-plasmid system, such as AtlA, Yag, and TraA. Interestingly, the gonococcal T4SS does not act as a conjugation system. Instead, this T4SS secretes ssDNA into the extracellular milieu, where it can serve to transform highly competent Neisseria species, thereby increasing the transfer of genetic information. Although many of the T4SS proteins are expressed at low levels, this system has been implicated in several cellular processes. The secreted ssDNA is involved in the initial stages of biofilm formation, and the presence of the T4SS enables TonB-independent intracellular survival of N. gonorrhoeae strains during infection of cervical cells. Other GGI-like T4SSs have been identified in several other α-, β-, and γ-proteobacteria, but the function of these GGI-like T4SSs is unknown. Remarkably, the presence of the GGI is related to resistance to several antibiotics. Here, we describe our current knowledge about the GGI and its unique ssDNA-secreting T4SS.


Chromosomal DNA Neisseria gonorrhoeae Type IV secretion system 



This work was supported in part by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant R01AI047958.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie M. Callaghan
    • 1
  • Jan-Hendrik Heilers
    • 2
  • Chris van der Does
    • 2
  • Joseph P. Dillard
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Medical Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Institut für Biologie II—MikrobiologieAlbert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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