Burkholderia cenocepacia is a Gram-negative opportunistic pathogen of patients with cystic fibrosis and chronic granulomatous disease. The bacterium survives intracellularly in macrophages within a membrane-bound vacuole (BcCV) that precludes the fusion with lysosomes. The underlying cellular mechanisms and bacterial molecules mediating these phenotypes are unknown. Here, we show that intracellular B. cenocepacia expressing a type VI secretion system (T6SS) affects the activation of the Rac1 and Cdc42 RhoGTPase by reducing the cellular pool of GTP-bound Rac1 and Cdc42. The T6SS also increases the cellular pool of GTP-bound RhoA and decreases cofilin activity. These effects lead to abnormal actin polymerization causing collapse of lamellipodia and failure to retract the uropod. The T6SS also prevents the recruitment of soluble subunits of the NADPH oxidase complex including Rac1 to the BcCV membrane, but is not involved in the BcCV maturation arrest. Therefore, T6SS-mediated deregulation of Rho family GTPases is a common mechanism linking disruption of the actin cytoskeleton and delayed NADPH oxidase activation in macrophages infected with B. cenocepacia.
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