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Contact-independent killing mediated by a T6SS effector with intrinsic cell-entry properties

Li Song, Junfeng Pan, Yantao Yang, Zhenxing Zhang, Rui Cui, Shuangkai Jia, Zhuo Wang, Changxing Yang, Lei Xu, Tao G Dong, Yao Wang, Xihui Shen

Nature Communications

DOI:10.1038/s41467-020-20726-8

Abstract

Bacterial type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) inject toxic effectors into adjacent eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. It is generally thought that this process requires physical contact between the two cells. Here, we provide evidence of contact-independent killing by a T6SS-secreted effector. We show that the pathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis uses a T6SS (T6SS-3) to secrete a nuclease effector that kills other bacteria in vitro and facilitates gut colonization in mice. The effector (Tce1) is a small protein that acts as a Ca2+- and Mg2+-dependent DNase, and its toxicity is inhibited by a cognate immunity protein, Tci1. As expected, T6SS-3 mediates canonical, contact-dependent killing by directly injecting Tce1 into adjacent cells. In addition, T6SS-3 also mediates killing of neighboring cells in the absence of cell-to-cell contact, by secreting Tce1 into the extracellular milieu. Efficient contact-independent entry of Tce1 into target cells requires proteins OmpF and BtuB in the outer membrane of target cells. The discovery of a contact-independent, long-range T6SS toxin delivery provides a new perspective for understanding the physiological roles of T6SS in competition. However, the mechanisms mediating contact-independent uptake of Tce1 by target cells remain unclear.