Bacteria have evolved toxins to outcompete other bacteria or to hijack host cell pathways. One broad family of bacterial polymorphic toxins gathers multidomain proteins with a modular organization, comprising a C-terminal toxin domain fused to a N-terminal domain that adapts to the delivery apparatus. Polymorphic toxins include bacteriocins, contact-dependent growth inhibition systems, and specialized Hcp, VgrG, PAAR or Rhs Type VI secretion (T6SS) components. We recently described and characterized Tre23, a toxin domain fused to a T6SS-associated Rhs protein in Photorhabdus laumondii, Rhs1. Here, we show that Rhs1 forms a complex with the T6SS spike protein VgrG and the EagR chaperone. Using truncation derivatives and cross-linking mass spectrometry, we demonstrate that VgrG-EagR-Rhs1 complex formation requires the VgrG C-terminal β-helix and the Rhs1 N-terminal region. We then report the cryo-electron-microscopy structure of the Rhs1-EagR complex, demonstrating that the Rhs1 central region forms a β-barrel cage-like structure that encapsulates the C-terminal toxin domain, and provide evidence for processing of the Rhs1 protein through aspartyl autoproteolysis. We propose a model for Rhs1 loading on the T6SS, transport and delivery into the target cell.

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Published on December 8, 2021

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