Coupling Proteins in Type IV Secretion

  • Matxalen Llosa
  • Itziar Alkorta
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 413)


Type IV coupling proteins (T4CPs) are essential constituents of most type IV secretion systems (T4SSs), and probably the most intriguing component in terms of their evolutionary origin and functional role. Coupling proteins have coevolved with their cognate secretion system and translocated substrates. They are present in all conjugative systems, leading to the suggestion that they play a specific role in DNA transfer. However, they are also part of many T4SSs involved in bacterial virulence, where they are required for protein translocation, with no apparent involvement in DNA secretion. Their name reflects genetic and biochemical evidence of a connecting role between the substrate and the T4SS, thus probably playing a major role in substrate recruitment. Increasing evidence supports also a role in signal transmission leading to activation of secretion. Most studies have addressed conjugative coupling proteins of the VirD4-like protein family. Their conserved features include a nucleotide-binding domain, essential for substrate translocation, a C-terminal domain involved in substrate interactions, and a transmembrane domain anchoring them to the inner membrane, which is an important regulator of protein function. Purified soluble deletion mutants display ATP hydrolysis activity and unspecific DNA binding. Elucidation of the 3D structure of the soluble deletion mutant of the conjugative coupling protein TrwB, TrwBΔN70, provided the basis for further mutagenesis studies rendering interesting insights into the structure–function of these proteins. Their key role as couplers between substrate and transporter provides biotechnological potential as targets for anti-virulence strategies, as well as for customization of substrate delivery through heterologous secretion systems.


Bacterial conjugation Pathogenicity Type IV secretion systems Coupling proteins DNA transfer 



Work in ML laboratory is funded by grant BIO2013-46414-P from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) and grant IDEAS211LLOS from the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC). We are grateful to Gorka Lasso and Delfina Larrea for Fig. 1, Itxaso Álvarez for Fig. 2 and help with Tables 1 and 2, and Héctor de Paz for help with Fig. 3.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Biología MolecularUniversidad de Cantabria (UC), and Instituto de Biomedicina y Biotecnología de Cantabria (IBBTEC), UC-CSIC-SODERCANSantanderSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular (UPV/EHU)Instituto Biofisika (UPV/EHU, CSIC)LeioaSpain

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