ssRNA phage penetration triggers detachment of the F-pilus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Although the F-specific ssRNA phage MS2 has long had paradigm status, little is known about penetration of the genomic RNA (gRNA) into the cell. The phage initially binds to the F-pilus using its maturation protein (Mat), and then the Mat-bound gRNA is released from the viral capsid and somehow crosses the bacterial envelope into the cytoplasm. To address the mechanics of this process, we fluorescently labeled the ssRNA phage MS2 to track F-pilus dynamics during infection. We discovered that ssRNA phage infection triggers the release of F-pili from host cells, and that higher multiplicity of infection (MOI) correlates with detachment of longer F-pili. We also report that entry of gRNA into the host cytoplasm requires the F-plasmid-encoded coupling protein, TraD, which is located at the cytoplasmic entrance of the F-encoded type IV secretion system (T4SS). However, TraD is not essential for pilus detachment, indicating that detachment is triggered by an early step of MS2 engagement with the F-pilus or T4SS. We propose a multistep model in which the ssRNA phage binds to the F-pilus and through pilus retraction engages with the distal end of the T4SS channel at the cell surface. Continued pilus retraction pulls the Mat-gRNA complex out of the virion into the T4SS channel, causing a torsional stress that breaks the mature F-pilus at the cell surface. We propose that phage-induced disruptions of F-pilus dynamics provides a selective advantage for infecting phages and thus may be prevalent among the phages specific for retractile pili.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 76.13

author list (cited authors)

  • Harb, L., Chamakura, K., Khara, P., Christie, P. J., Young, R. y., & Zeng, L.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Harb, Laith||Chamakura, Karthik||Khara, Pratick||Christie, Peter J||Young, Ry||Zeng, Lanying

publication date

  • October 2020