Among many interesting and sophisticated mechanisms used by bacterial pathogens to subvert eukaryotic hosts is a class of specialized protein secretion systems (known as type III protein secretion systems) that deliver bacterial virulence proteins directly into the host cell. Recent studies have revealed four important features of these secretion systems. First, they are widespread among plant and animal bacterial pathogens, and mutations affecting type III protein secretion often eliminate bacterial virulence completely. Second, at least eight type III secretion components share sequence similarities with those of the flagellar assembly machinery and flagellum-like structures are associated with type III secretion, raising the possibility that these secretion systems are derived from the presumably more ancient flagellar assembly apparatus. Third, type III secretion is activated in vivo upon contact with host cells. Fourth, the type III secretion mechanism is Sec-independent and the effector proteins may possess mRNA-based targeting signals. This review highlights the similarities and differences among type III secretion systems of selected model plant and animal pathogenic bacteria.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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