Acinetobacter baylyi regulates type IV pilus synthesis by employing two extension motors and a motor protein inhibitor.
Bacteria use extracellular appendages called type IV pili (T4P) for diverse behaviors including DNA uptake, surface sensing, virulence, protein secretion, and twitching motility. Dynamic extension and retraction of T4P is essential for their function, and T4P extension is thought to occur through the action of a single, highly conserved motor, PilB. Here, we develop Acinetobacter baylyi as a model to study T4P by employing a recently developed pilus labeling method. By contrast to previous studies of other bacterial species, we find that T4P synthesis in A. baylyi is dependent not only on PilB but also on an additional, phylogenetically distinct motor, TfpB. Furthermore, we identify a protein (CpiA) that inhibits T4P extension by specifically binding and inhibiting PilB but not TfpB. These results expand our understanding of T4P regulation and highlight how inhibitors might be exploited to disrupt T4P synthesis.