Structure of the Neisseria meningitidis outer membrane PilQ secretin complex at 12 Å resolution

RF Collins, SA Frye, A Kitmitto, Robert Ford, T Tonjum, Jeremy Derrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The bacterial pathogen Neisseria meningitidis expresses long, thin, retractile fibers (called type IV pili) from its cell surface and uses these adhesive structures to mediate primary attachment to epithelial cells during host colonization and invasion. PilQ is an outer membrane protein complex that is essential for the translocation of these pili across the outer membrane. Here, we present the structure of the PilQ complex determined by cryoelectron microscopy to 12 Å resolution. The dominant feature of the structure is a large central cavity, formed by four arm features that spiral upwards from a squared ring base and meet to form a prominent cap region. The cavity, running through the center of the complex, is continuous and is effectively sealed at both the top and bottom. Analysis of the complex using self-orientation and by examination of two-dimensional crystals indicates a strong C4 rotational symmetry, with a much weaker C12 rotational symmetry, consistent with PilQ possessing true C4 symmetry with C12 quasisymmetry. We therefore suggest that the complex is a homododecamer, formed by association of 12 PilQ polypeptide chains into a tetramer of trimers. The structure of the PilQ complex, with its large and well defined central chamber, suggests that it may not function solely as a passive portal in the outer membrane, but could be actively involved in mediating pilus assembly or modification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39750-39756
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2004


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