Although whole-genome sequencing has provided novel insights into Neisseria meningitidis, many open reading frames have only been annotated as hypothetical proteins with unknown biological functions. Our previous genetic analyses revealed that the hypothetical protein, NMB1345, plays a crucial role in meningococcal infection in human brain microvascular endothelial cells; however, NMB1345 has no homology to any identified protein in databases and its physiological function could not be elucidated using pre-existing methods. Among the many biological technologies to examine transient protein-protein interaction in vivo, one of the developed methods is genetic code expansion with non-canonical amino acids (ncAAs) utilizing a pyrrolysyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNAPyl pair from Methanosarcina species: However, this method has never been applied to assign function-unknown proteins in pathogenic bacteria. In the present study, we developed a new method to genetically incorporate ncAAs-encoded photocrosslinking probes into N. meningitidis by utilizing a pyrrolysyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNAPyl pair and elucidated the biological function(s) of the NMB1345 protein. The results revealed that the NMB1345 protein directly interacts with PilE, a major component of meningococcal pili, and further physicochemical and genetic analyses showed that the interaction between the NMB1345 protein and PilE was important for both functional pilus formation and meningococcal infectious ability in N. meningitidis. The present study using this new methodology for N. meningitidis provides novel insights into meningococcal pathogenesis by assigning the function of a hypothetical protein.
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