JOURNAL ARTICLE

The opportunistic pathogen Serratia marcescens utilizes type VI secretion to target bacterial competitors

Sarah L Murdoch, Katharina Trunk, Grant English, Maximilian J Fritsch, Ehsan Pourkarimi, Sarah J Coulthurst
Journal of Bacteriology 2011, 193 (21): 6057-69
21890705
The type VI secretion system (T6SS) is the most recently described and least understood of the protein secretion systems of Gram-negative bacteria. It is widely distributed and has been implicated in the virulence of various pathogens, but its mechanism and exact mode of action remain to be defined. Additionally there have been several very recent reports that some T6SSs can target bacteria rather than eukaryotic cells. Serratia marcescens is an opportunistic enteric pathogen, a class of bacteria responsible for a significant proportion of hospital-acquired infections. We describe the identification of a functional T6SS in S. marcescens strain Db10, the first report of type VI secretion by an opportunist enteric bacterium. The T6SS of S. marcescens Db10 is active, with secretion of Hcp to the culture medium readily detected, and is expressed constitutively under normal growth conditions from a large transcriptional unit. Expression of the T6SS genes did not appear to be dependent on the integrity of the T6SS. The S. marcescens Db10 T6SS is not required for virulence in three nonmammalian virulence models. It does, however, exhibit dramatic antibacterial killing activity against several other bacterial species and is required for S. marcescens to persist in a mixed culture with another opportunist pathogen, Enterobacter cloacae. Importantly, this antibacterial killing activity is highly strain specific, with the S. marcescens Db10 T6SS being highly effective against another strain of S. marcescens with a very similar and active T6SS. We conclude that type VI secretion plays a crucial role in the competitiveness, and thus indirectly the virulence, of S. marcescens and other opportunistic bacterial pathogens.

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