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Gram-negative bacteria commonly interact with animal and plant hosts using type III secretion systems (TTSSs) for translocation of proteins into eukaryotic cells during infection. 10 of the 25 TTSS-encoding genes are homologous to components of the bacterial flagellar basal body, which the TTSS needle complex morphologically resembles. This indicates a common ancestry, although no TTSS sequence homologues for the genes encoding the flagellum are found. We here present an approximately 16-A structure of the central component, the needle, of the TTSS. Although the needle subunit is significantly smaller and shares no sequence homology with the flagellar hook and filament, it shares a common helical architecture ( approximately 5.6 subunits/turn, 24-A helical pitch). This common architecture implies that there will be further mechanistic analogies in the functioning of these two bacterial systems.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





17103 - 17107


Bacterial Proteins, Flagella, Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Protein Conformation, Protein Transport, Shigella flexneri