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  1. Multiple gram-negative bacteria encode type III secretion systems (T3SS) that allow them to inject effector proteins directly into host cells to facilitate colonization. To be secreted, effector proteins must be at least partially unfolded to pass through the narrow needle-like channel (diameter <2 nm) of the T3SS. Fusion of effector proteins to tightly packed proteins—such as GFP, ubiquitin, or dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR)—impairs secretion and results in obstruction of the T3SS. Prior observation that unfolding can become rate-limiting for secretion has led to the model that T3SS effector proteins have low thermodynamic stability, facilitating their secretion. Here, we first show that the unfolding free energy ( Δ G unfold 0 ) of two Salmonella effector proteins, SptP and SopE2, are 6.9 and 6.0 kcal/mol, respectively, typical for globular proteins and similar to published Δ G unfold 0 for GFP, ubiquitin, and DHFR. Next, we mechanically unfolded individual SptP and SopE2 molecules by atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based force spectroscopy. SptP and SopE2 unfolded at low force ( F unfold ≤ 17 pN at 100 nm/s), making them among the most mechanically labile proteins studied to date by AFM. Moreover, their mechanical compliance is large, as measured by the distance to the transitionmore »state (Δ x ‡ = 1.6 and 1.5 nm for SptP and SopE2, respectively). In contrast, prior measurements of GFP, ubiquitin, and DHFR show them to be mechanically robust ( F unfold > 80 pN) and brittle (Δ x ‡ < 0.4 nm). These results suggest that effector protein unfolding by T3SS is a mechanical process and that mechanical lability facilitates efficient effector protein secretion.« less