The bacterial type IV pilus (T4P) is a versatile nanomachine that functions in pathogenesis, biofilm formation, motility, and horizontal gene transfer. T4P assembly is powered by the motor ATPase PilB which is proposed to hydrolyze ATP by a symmetrical rotary mechanism. This mechanism, which is deduced from the structure of PilB, is untested. Here, we report the first kinetic studies of the PilB ATPase, supporting co-ordination among the protomers of this hexameric enzyme. Analysis of the genome sequence of Chloracidobacterium thermophilum identified a pilB gene whose protein we then heterologously expressed. This PilB formed a hexamer in solution and exhibited highly robust ATPase activity. It displays complex steady-state kinetics with an incline followed by a decline over an ATP concentration range of physiological relevance. The incline is multiphasic and the decline signifies substrate inhibition. These observations suggest that variations in intracellular ATP concentrations may regulate T4P assembly and T4P-mediated functions in vivo in accordance with the physiological state of bacteria with unanticipated complexity. We also identified a mutant pilB gene in the genomic DNA of C. thermophilum from an enrichment culture. The mutant PilB variant, which is significantly less active, exhibited similar inhibition of its ATPase activity by high concentrations of ATP. Our findings here with the PilB ATPase from C. thermophilum provide the first line of biochemical evidence for the co-ordination among PilB protomers consistent with the symmetrical rotary model of catalysis based on structural studies.

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