Type IV Pilus Proteins Form an Integrated Structure Extending from the Cytoplasm to the Outer Membrane

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The bacterial type IV pilus (T4P) is the strongest biological motor known to date as its retraction can generate forces well over 100 pN. Myxococcus xanthus, a 𝞭-proteobacterium, provides a good model for T4P investigations because its social (S) gliding motility is powered by T4P. In this study, the interactions among M. xanthus T4P proteins were investigated using genetics and the yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) system. Our genetic analysis suggests that there is an integrated T4P structure that crosses the inner membrane (IM), periplasm and the outer membrane (OM). Moreover, this structure exists in the absence of the pilus filament. A systematic Y2H survey provided evidence for direct interactions among IM and OM proteins exposed to the periplasm. For example, the IM lipoprotein PilP interacted with its cognate OM protein PilQ. In addition, interactions among T4P proteins from the thermophile Thermus thermophilus were investigated by Y2H. The results indicated similar protein-protein interactions in the T4P system of this non-proteobacterium despite significant sequence divergence between T4P proteins in T. thermophilus and M. xanthus. The observations here support the model of an integrated T4P structure in the absence of a pilus in diverse bacterial species.