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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Role of EscU auto-cleavage in promoting type III effector translocation into host cells by enteropathogenic Escherichia coli

Jenny-Lee Thomassin12, Xiang He1 and Nikhil A Thomas1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Dalhousie University, 5850 College Street, P.O. Box 15000, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4R2 Canada

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, McGill University, 3775 University Street, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 2B4 Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:205  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-205

Published: 20 September 2011



Type III secretion systems (T3SS) of bacterial pathogens coordinate effector protein injection into eukaryotic cells. The YscU/FlhB group of proteins comprises members associated with T3SS which undergo a specific auto-cleavage event at a conserved NPTH amino acid sequence. The crystal structure of the C-terminal portion of EscU from enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) suggests this auto-cleaving protein provides an interface for substrate interactions involved in type III secretion events.


We demonstrate EscU must be auto-cleaved for bacteria to efficiently deliver type III effectors into infected cells. A non-cleaving EscU(N262A) variant supported very low levels of in vitro effector secretion. These effector proteins were not able to support EPEC infection of cultured HeLa cells. In contrast, EscU(P263A) was demonstrated to be partially auto-cleaved and moderately restored effector translocation and functionality during EPEC infection, revealing an intermediate phenotype. EscU auto-cleavage was not required for inner membrane association of the T3SS ATPase EscN or the ring forming protein EscJ. In contrast, in the absence of EscU auto-cleavage, inner membrane association of the multicargo type III secretion chaperone CesT was altered suggesting that EscU auto-cleavage supports docking of chaperone-effector complexes at the inner membrane. In support of this interpretation, evidence of novel effector protein breakdown products in secretion assays were linked to the non-cleaved status of EscU(N262A).


These data provide new insight into the role of EscU auto-cleavage in EPEC. The experimental data suggests that EscU auto-cleavage results in a suitable binding interface at the inner membrane that accommodates protein complexes during type III secretion events. The results also demonstrate that altered EPEC genetic backgrounds that display intermediate levels of effector secretion and translocation can be isolated and studied. These genetic backgrounds should be valuable in deciphering sequential and temporal events involved in EPEC type III secretion.