Structure of the bacterial sex F pilus reveals an assembly of a stoichiometric protein-phospholipid complex

Tiago R. D. Costa, Aravindan I langovan, Marta Ukleja, Adam Redjez, Joanne M. Santini, Terry K. Smith, Edward H. Egelman, Gabriel Waksman

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99 Citations (Scopus)
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Conjugative pili are widespread bacterial appendages that play important roles in horizontal gene transfer, in spread of antibiotic resistance genes, and as sites of phage attachment. Among conjugative pili, the F “sex” pilus encoded by the F plasmid is the best functionally characterized, and it is also historically the most important, as the discovery of F-plasmid-mediated conjugation ushered in the era of molecular biology and genetics. Yet, its structure is unknown. Here, we present atomic models of two F family pili, the F and pED208 pili, generated from cryoelectron microscopy reconstructions at 5.0 and 3.6 Å resolution, respectively. These structures reveal that conjugative pili are assemblies of stoichiometric protein-phospholipid units. We further demonstrate that each pilus type binds preferentially to particular phospholipids. These structures provide the molecular basis for F pilus assembly and also shed light on the remarkable properties of conjugative pili in bacterial secretion and phage infection.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10
Pages (from-to)1436-1444
Number of pages20
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2016


  • Pilus
  • Conjugation
  • Type 4 Secretion System
  • Phospholipid
  • Protein-phospholipid complex
  • Structural biology
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy


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