Mycobacterium tuberculosis toxin cpnt is an esx-5 substrate and requires three type vii secretion systems for intracellular secretion

B. Izquierdo Lafuente, R. Ummels, C. Kuijl, W. Bitter, A. Speer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


CpnT, a NAD+ glycohydrolase, is the only known toxin that is secreted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. CpnT is composed of two domains; the C-terminal domain is the toxin, whereas the N-terminal domain is required for secretion. CpnT shows characteristics of type VII secretion (T7S) substrates, including a predicted he-lix-turn-helix domain followed by a secretion motif (YxxxE). Disruption of this motif indeed abolished CpnT secretion. By analyzing different mutants, we established that CpnT is specifically secreted by the ESX-5 system in Mycobacterium marinum under axenic conditions and during macrophage infection. Surprisingly, intracellular secretion of CpnT was also dependent on both ESX-1 and ESX-4. These secretion defects could be partially rescued by coinfection with wild-type bacteria, indicating that secreted effectors are involved in this process. In summary, our data reveal that three different type VII secretion systems have to be functional in order to observe intracellular secretion of the toxin CpnT. IMPORTANCE For decades, it was believed that the intracellular pathogen M. tuberculosis does not possess toxins. Only fairly recently it was discovered that CpnT is a potent secreted toxin of M. tuberculosis, causing necrotic cell death in host cells. However, until now the secretion pathway remained unknown. In our study, we were able to identify CpnT as a substrate of the mycobacterial type VII secretion sys-tem. Pathogenic mycobacteria have up to five different type VII secretion systems, called ESX-1 to ESX-5, which play distinct roles for the pathogen during growth or infection. We were able to elucidate that CpnT is exclusively secreted by the ESX-5 system in bacterial culture. However, to our surprise we discovered that, during infection studies, CpnT secretion relies on intact ESX-1, ESX-4, and ESX-5 systems. We elucidate for the first time the intertwined interplay of three different and inde-pendent secretion systems to secrete one substrate during infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02983-20
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Izquierdo Lafuente et al.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Exotoxins
  • Mycobacterium
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Protein secretion
  • Secretion systems


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