Characterization of a complex chemosensory signal transduction system which controls twitching motility in Pseudomonas aeruginosa
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Virulence of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa involves the coordinate expression of a wide range of virulence factors including type IV pili which are required for colonization of host tissues and are associated with a form of surface translocation termed twitching motility. Twitching motility in P. aeruginosa is controlled by a complex signal transduction pathway which shares many modules in common with chemosensory systems controlling flagella rotation in bacteria and which is composed, in part, of the previously described proteins PilG, PilH, PilI, PilJ and PilK. Here we describe another three components of this pathway: ChpA, ChpB and ChpC, as well as two downstream genes, ChpD and ChpE, which may also be involved. The central component of the pathway, ChpA, possesses nine potential sites of phosphorylation: six histidine-containing phosphotransfer (HPt) domains, two novel serine- and threonine-containing phosphotransfer (SPt, TPt) domains and a CheY-like receiver domain at its C-terminus, and as such represents one of the most complex signalling proteins yet described in nature. We show that the Chp chemosensory system controls twitching motility and type IV pili biogenesis through control of pili assembly and/or retraction as well as expression of the pilin subunit gene pilA. The Chp system is also required for full virulence in a mouse model of acute pneumonia.