Identification of Coxiella burnetii type IV secretion substrates required for intracellular replication and Coxiella-containing vacuole formation.
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Coxiella burnetii, the etiological agent of acute and chronic Q fever in humans, is a naturally intracellular pathogen that directs the formation of an acidic Coxiella-containing vacuole (CCV) derived from the host lysosomal network. Central to its pathogenesis is a specialized type IVB secretion system (T4SS) that delivers effectors essential for intracellular replication and CCV formation. Using a bioinformatics-guided approach, 234 T4SS candidate substrates were identified. Expression of each candidate as a TEM-1 -lactamase fusion protein led to the identification of 53 substrates that were translocated in a Dot/Icm-dependent manner. Ectopic expression in HeLa cells revealed that these substrates trafficked to distinct subcellular sites, including the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondrion, and nucleus. Expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae identified several substrates that were capable of interfering with yeast growth, suggesting that these substrates target crucial host processes. To determine if any of these T4SS substrates are necessary for intracellular replication, we isolated 20 clonal T4SS substrate mutants using the Himar1 transposon and transposase. Among these, 10 mutants exhibited defects in intracellular growth and CCV formation in HeLa and J774A.1 cells but displayed normal growth in bacteriological medium. Collectively, these results indicate that C. burnetii encodes a large repertoire of T4SS substrates that play integral roles in host cell subversion and CCV formation and suggest less redundancy in effector function than has been found in the comparative Legionella Dot/Icm model.