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Structural comparison of contractile nanomachines

Gene Center Munich, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Feodor-Lynen-Strasse 25, D-81377 Munich, Germany

Special Issue: Structural analysis of macromolecules using Cryo electron microscopy

Contractile molecular machines are a common feature among bacteriophages and prokaryotes. Due to their stability and the large size, contractile-tailed bacteriophages are traditionally investigated by electron microscopic methods. Complemented by crystallographic studies, a molecular model of contraction for the T4 phage was developed. Lately, also related contractile structures like the Photorhabdus virulence cassette-like particles, the R-Type pyocins and the contractile tubule of the bacterial Type VI secretion system have been analyzed by cryo electron microscopy. Photorhabdus virulence cassette particles and R-Type pyocins are toxin complexes reminiscent of bacteriophage tails that are secreted by bacteria to kill their insect host or competing bacteria. In contrast, the Type VI secretion system is an intracellular apparatus for injection of effector proteins into bacterial and eukaryotic cells. Although it shares homology with other contractile systems, the Type VI secretion system is additionally equipped with a recycling function, which makes it suitable for multiple rounds of action. Starting from the 3D reconstructions, we compare these molecular machines structurally and functionally to their viral counterparts and summarize the current knowledge on their respective mode of action.
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