The plant-pathogenic bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria possesses a type III secretion (TTS) system necessary for pathogenicity in susceptible hosts and induction of the hypersensitive response in resistant plants. This specialized protein transport system is encoded by a 23-kb hrp (hypersensitive response and pathogenicity) gene cluster. X. campestris pv. vesicatoria produces filamentous structures, Hrp pili, at the cell surface under hrp-inducing conditions. The Hrp pilus acts as a cell surface appendage of the TTS system and serves as a conduit for the transfer of bacterial effector proteins into the plant cell cytosol. The major pilus component, the HrpE pilin, is unique to xanthomonads and is encoded within the hrp gene cluster. In this study, functional domains of HrpE were mapped by linker-scanning mutagenesis and by reporter protein fusions to an N-terminally truncated avirulence protein (AvrBs3Δ2). Thirteen five-amino-acid peptide insertion mutants were obtained and could be grouped into six phenotypic classes. Three permissive mutations were mapped in the N-terminal half of HrpE, which is weakly conserved within the HrpE protein family. Four dominant-negative peptide insertions in the strongly conserved C-terminal region suggest that this domain is critical for oligomerization of the pilus subunits. Reporter protein fusions revealed that the N-terminal 17 amino acid residues act as an efficient TTS signal. From these results, we postulate a three-domain structure of HrpE with an N-terminal secretion signal, a surface-exposed variable region of the N-terminal half, and a C-terminal polymerization domain. Comparisons with a mutant study of HrpA, the Hrp pilin from Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000, and hydrophobicity plot analyses of several nonhomologues Hrp pilins suggest a common architecture of Hrp pilins of different plant-pathogenic bacteria.
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