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Extreme genetic diversity in the type VII secretion system of Listeria monocytogenes suggests a role in bacterial antagonism

Lookup NU author(s): Kieran Bowran, Professor Tracy Palmer FRS FRSE FMedSciORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The Type VII protein secretion system (T7SS) has been characterised in members of the actinobacteria and firmicutes phyla. In mycobacteria the T7SS is intimately linked with pathogenesis and intracellular survival, while in firmicutes there is mounting evidence that the system plays a key role in interbacterial competition. A conserved membrane-bound ATPase protein, termed EssC in Staphylococcus aureus, is a critical component of the T7SS and is the primary receptor for substrate proteins. Genetic diversity in the essC gene of S. aureus has previously been reported, resulting in four protein variants that are linked to specific subsets of substrates. Here we have analysed the genetic diversity of the T7SS-encoding genes and substrate proteins across Listeria monocytogenes genome sequences. We find that there are seven EssC variants across the species that differ in their C-terminal region; each variant is correlated with a distinct subset of genes for likely substrate and accessory proteins. EssC1 is most common and is exclusively linked with polymorphic toxins harbouring a YeeF domain, whereas EssC5, EssC6 and EssC7 variants all code for an LXG-domain protein adjacent to essC. Some essC1 variant strains encode an additional, truncated essC at their T7 gene cluster. The truncated EssC, comprising only the C-terminal half of the protein matches the sequence of either EssC2, EssC3 or EssC4. In each case the truncated gene directly precedes a cluster of substrate/accessory protein genes acquired from the corresponding strain. Across L. monocytogenes strains we identified 40 LXG-domain proteins, most of which are encoded at conserved genomic loci. These loci also harbour genes encoding immunity proteins and sometimes additional toxin fragments. Collectively our findings strongly suggest that the T7SS plays an important role in bacterial antagonism in this species.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bowran K, Palmer T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Microbiology

Year: 2021

Volume: 167

Issue: 3

Online publication date: 18/02/2021

Acceptance date: 26/01/2021

Date deposited: 27/01/2021

ISSN (print): 1350-0872

ISSN (electronic): 1465-2080

Publisher: Microbiology Society


DOI: 10.1099/mic.0.001034


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