Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative bacterium capable of complex developmental processes involving vegetative swarming and fruiting body formation. Social (S-) gliding motility, one of the two motility systems employed by M. xanthus, requires at least two cell surface structures: type IV pili (TFP) and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS). Extended TFP which are composed of thousands of copies of PilA retract upon binding to EPS and thereby pull the cell forward. TFP also act as external sensor to regulate EPS production. In this study, we generated a random PilA mutant library and identified one derivative, SW1066, which completely failed to undergo developmental processes. Detailed characterization revealed that SW1066 produced very little EPS but wild-type amounts of PilA. These mutated PilA subunits, however, are unable to assemble into functional TFP despite their ability to localize to the membrane. By preventing the mutated PilA of SW1066 to translocate from the cytoplasm to the membrane, fruiting body formation and EPS production was restored to the levels observed in mutant strains lacking PilA. This apparent connection between PilA membrane accumulation and reduction in surface EPS implies that specific cellular PilA localization are required to maintain the EPS level necessary to sustain normal S-motilityin M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus; type four pili; PilA; extracellular polysaccharide
Acinetobacter baumannii is a Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen. Recently, multiple A. baumannii genomes have been sequenced; these data have led to the identification of many genes predicted to encode proteins required for the biogenesis of type IV pili (TFP). However, there is no experimental evidence demonstrating that A. baumannii strains actually produce functional TFP. Here, we demonstrated that A. baumannii strain M2 is naturally transformable and capable of twitching motility, two classical TFP-associated phenotypes. Strains were constructed with mutations in pilA, pilD, and pilT, genes whose products have been well characterized in other systems. These mutants were no longer naturally transformable and did not exhibit twitching motility. These TFP-associated phenotypes were restored when these mutations were complemented. More PilA was detected on the surface of the pilT mutant than the parental strain, and TFP were visualized on the pilT mutant by transmission electron microscopy. Thus, A. baumannii produces functional TFP and utilizes TFP for both natural transformation and twitching motility. Several investigators have hypothesized that TFP might be responsible, in part, for the flagellum-independent surface-associated motility exhibited by many A. baumannii clinical isolates. We demonstrated that surface-associated motility was not dependent on the products of the pilA, pilD, and pilT genes and, by correlation, TFP. The identification of functional TFP in A. baumannii lays the foundation for future work determining the role of TFP in models of virulence that partially recapitulate human disease.
IMPORTANCE Several investigators have documented the presence of genes predicted to encode proteins required for the biogenesis of TFP in many A. baumannii genomes. Furthermore, some have speculated that TFP may play a role in the unique surface-associated motility phenotype exhibited by many A. baumannii clinical isolates, yet there has been no experimental evidence to prove this. Unfortunately, progress in understanding the biology and virulence of A. baumannii has been slowed by the difficulty of constructing and complementing mutations in this species. Strain M2, a recently characterized clinical isolate, is amenable to genetic manipulation. We have established a reproducible system for the generation of marked and/or unmarked mutations using a modified recombineering strategy as well as a genetic complementation system utilizing a modified mini-Tn7 element in strain M2. Using this strategy, we demonstrated that strain M2 produces TFP and that TFP are not required for surface-associated motility exhibited by strain M2.
Several investigators have documented the presence of genes predicted to encode proteins required for the biogenesis of TFP in many A. baumannii genomes. Furthermore, some have speculated that TFP may play a role in the unique surface-associated motility phenotype exhibited by many A. baumannii clinical isolates, yet there has been no experimental evidence to prove this. Unfortunately, progress in understanding the biology and virulence of A. baumannii has been slowed by the difficulty of constructing and complementing mutations in this species. Strain M2, a recently characterized clinical isolate, is amenable to genetic manipulation. We have established a reproducible system for the generation of marked and/or unmarked mutations using a modified recombineering strategy as well as a genetic complementation system utilizing a modified mini-Tn7 element in strain M2. Using this strategy, we demonstrated that strain M2 produces TFP and that TFP are not required for surface-associated motility exhibited by strain M2.
The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa expresses polar type IV pili (TFP), which are responsible for adhesion to various materials and twitching motility on surfaces. Twitching occurs by alternate extension and retraction of TFP, which arise from assembly and disassembly of pilin subunits at the base of the pilus. The ATPase PilB promotes pilin assembly, while the ATPase PilT or PilU or both promote pilin dissociation. Fluorescent fusions to two of the three ATPases (PilT and PilU) were functional, as shown by complementation of the corresponding mutants. PilB and PilT fusions localized to both poles, while PilU fusions localized only to the piliated pole. To identify the portion of the ATPases required for localization, sequential C-terminal deletions of PilT and PilU were generated. The conserved His and Walker B boxes were dispensable for polar localization but were required for twitching motility, showing that localization and function could be uncoupled. Truncated fusions that retained polar localization maintained their distinctive distribution patterns. To dissect the cellular factors involved in establishing polarity, fusion protein localization was monitored with a panel of TFP mutants. The localization of yellow fluorescent protein (YFP)-PilT and YFP-PilU was independent of the subunit PilA, other TFP ATPases, and TFP-associated proteins previously shown to be associated with the membrane or exhibiting polar localization. In contrast, YFP-PilB exhibited diffuse cytoplasmic localization in a pilC mutant, suggesting that PilC is required for polar localization of PilB. Finally, localization studies performed with fluorescent ATPase chimeras of PilT and PilU demonstrated that information responsible for the characteristic localization patterns of the ATPases likely resides in their N termini.
As prokaryotic models for multicellular development, Stigmatellaaurantiaca and Myxococcus xanthus share many similarities in terms of social behaviors, such as gliding motility. Our current understanding of myxobacterial grouped-cell motilities comes mainly from the research on M. xanthus, which shows that filamentous type IV pili (TFP), composed of type IV pilin (also called PilA protein) subunits, are the key apparatus for social motility (S-motility). However, little is known about the pilin protein in S. aurantiaca. We cloned and sequenced four genes (pilASa1~4) from S. aurantiaca DSM17044 that are homologous to pilAMx (pilA gene in M. xanthus DK1622). The homology and similarities among PilASa proteins and other myxobacterial homologues were systematically analyzed. To determine their potential biological functions, the four pilASa genes were expressed in M. xanthus DK10410 (ΔpilAMx), which did not restore S-motility on soft agar or EPS production to host cells. After further analysis of the motile behaviors in a methylcellulose solution, the M. xanthus strains were categorized into three types. YL6101, carrying pilASa1, and YL6104, carrying pilASa4, produced stable but unretractable surface pili; YL6102, carrying pilASa2, produced stable surface pili and exhibited reduced TFP-dependent motility in methylcellulose; YL6103, carrying pilASa3, produced unstable surface pili. Based on these findings, we propose that pilASa2 might be responsible for the type IV pilin production involved in group motility in S. aurantiaca DSM17044. After examining the developmental processes, it was suggested that the expression of PilASa4 protein might have positive effects on the fruiting body formation of M. xanthus DK10410 cells. Moreover, the formation of fruiting body in M. xanthus cells with stable exogenous TFPSa were compensated by mixing them with S. aurantiaca DSM17044 cells. Our results shed some light on the features and functions of type IV pilin homologues in S. aurantiaca.
All four Francisella tularensis subspecies possess gene clusters with potential to express type IV pili (Tfp). These clusters include putative pilin genes, as well as pilB, pilC and pilQ, required for secretion and assembly of Tfp. A hallmark of Tfp is the ability to retract the pilus upon surface contact, a property mediated by the ATPase PilT. Interestingly, out of the two major human pathogenic subspecies only the highly virulent type A strains have a functional pilT gene.
In a previous study, we were able to show that one pilin gene, pilA, was essential for virulence of a type B strain in a mouse infection model. In this work we have examined the role of several Tfp genes in the virulence of the pathogenic type A strain SCHU S4. pilA, pilC, pilQ, and pilT were mutated by in-frame deletion mutagenesis. Interestingly, when mice were infected with a mixture of each mutant strain and the wild-type strain, the pilA, pilC and pilQ mutants were out-competed, while the pilT mutant was equally competitive as the wild-type.
This suggests that expression and surface localisation of PilA contribute to virulence in the highly virulent type A strain, while PilT was dispensable for virulence in the mouse infection model.
Streptococcus agalactiae is a common human commensal and a major life-threatening pathogen in neonates. Adherence to host epithelial cells is the first critical step of the infectious process. Pili have been observed on the surface of several gram-positive bacteria including S. agalactiae. We previously characterized the pilus-encoding operon gbs1479-1474 in strain NEM316. This pilus is composed of three structural subunit proteins: Gbs1478 (PilA), Gbs1477 (PilB), and Gbs1474 (PilC), and its assembly involves two class C sortases (SrtC3 and SrtC4). PilB, the bona fide pilin, is the major component; PilA, the pilus associated adhesin, and PilC, are both accessory proteins incorporated into the pilus backbone. We first addressed the role of the housekeeping sortase A in pilus biogenesis and showed that it is essential for the covalent anchoring of the pilus fiber to the peptidoglycan. We next aimed at understanding the role of the pilus fiber in bacterial adherence and at resolving the paradox of an adhesive but dispensable pilus. Combining immunoblotting and electron microscopy analyses, we showed that the PilB fiber is essential for efficient PilA display on the surface of the capsulated strain NEM316. We then demonstrated that pilus integrity becomes critical for adherence to respiratory epithelial cells under flow-conditions mimicking an in vivo situation and revealing the limitations of the commonly used static adherence model. Interestingly, PilA exhibits a von Willebrand adhesion domain (VWA) found in many extracellular eucaryotic proteins. We show here that the VWA domain of PilA is essential for its adhesive function, demonstrating for the first time the functionality of a prokaryotic VWA homolog. Furthermore, the auto aggregative phenotype of NEM316 observed in standing liquid culture was strongly reduced in all three individual pilus mutants. S. agalactiae strain NEM316 was able to form biofilm in microtiter plate and, strikingly, the PilA and PilB mutants were strongly impaired in biofilm formation. Surprisingly, the VWA domain involved in adherence to epithelial cells was not required for biofilm formation.
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus) is a leading cause of sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis (brain infection) in newborns. Most bacterial pathogens have long filamentous structures known as pili or fimbriae, which are often involved in the initial adhesion of bacteria to host tissues but also in bacteria–bacteria interactions, resulting in biofilm formation. Our previous functional characterization of the pilus locus in S. agalactiae showed that it encodes a major pilin and two minor pilin subunits that are covalently polymerized by the action of two enzymes belonging to the sortase C family. One of the accessory pilins is responsible for the adhesive property of the pilus. However, this initial study raised two major questions that were addressed in the present work: i) what anchors the pilus to the cell wall and ii) what is the function of the pilus fiber itself. We showed that the pilus is essential for optimal display of the pilus-associated adhesin and overcomes the masking effect of the capsule. Pilus integrity was shown to be critical in adherence assays under flow conditions. We also report that GBS can form biofilms and that pili play an important role in this process.
The human pathogen Eikenella corrodens expresses type IV pili and exhibits a phase variation involving the irreversible transition from piliated to nonpiliated variants. On solid medium, piliated variants form small (S-phase), corroding colonies whereas nonpiliated variants form large (L-phase), noncorroding colonies. We are studying pilus structure and function in the clinical isolate E. corrodens VA1. Earlier work defined the pilA locus which includes pilA1, pilA2, pilB, and hagA. Both pilA1 and pilA2 predict a type IV pilin, whereas pilB predicts a putative pilus assembly protein. The role of hagA has not been clearly established. That work also confirmed that pilA1 encodes the major pilus protein in this strain and showed that the phase variation involves a posttranslational event in pilus formation. In this study, the function of the individual genes comprising the pilA locus was examined using a recently developed protocol for targeted interposon mutagenesis of S-phase variant VA1-S1. Different pilA mutants were compared to S-phase and L-phase variants for several distinct aspects of phase variation and type IV pilus biosynthesis and function. S-phase cells were characterized by surface pili, competence for natural transformation, and twitching motility, whereas L-phase cells lacked these features. Inactivation of pilA1 yielded a mutant that was phenotypically indistinguishable from L-phase variants, showing that native biosynthesis of the type IV pilus in strain VA1 is dependent on expression of pilA1 and proper export and assembly of PilA1. Inactivation of pilA2 yielded a mutant that was phenotypically indistinguishable from S-phase variants, indicating that pilA2 is not essential for biosynthesis of functionally normal pili. A mutant inactivated for pilB was deficient for twitching motility, suggesting a role for PilB in this pilus-related phenomenon. Inactivation of hagA, which may encode a tellurite resistance protein, had no effect on pilus structure or function.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses type IV pili to colonize various materials and for surface-associated twitching motility. We previously identified five phylogenetically distinct alleles of pilA in P. aeruginosa, four of which occur in genetic cassettes with specific accessory genes (J. V. Kus, E. Tullis, D. G. Cvitkovitch, and L. L. Burrows, Microbiology 150:1315-1326, 2004). Each of the five pilin alleles, with and without its associated pilin accessory gene, was used to complement a group II PAO1 pilA mutant. Expression of group I or IV pilA genes restored twitching motility to the same extent as the PAO1 group II pilin. In contrast, poor twitching resulted from complementation with group III or group V pilA genes but increased significantly when the cognate tfpY or tfpZ accessory genes were cointroduced. The enhanced motility was linked to an increase in recoverable surface pili and not to alterations in total pilin pools. Expression of the group III or V pilins in a PAO1 pilA-pilT double mutant yielded large amounts of surface pili, regardless of the presence of the accessory genes. Therefore, poor piliation in the absence of the TfpY and TfpZ accessory proteins results from a net increase in PilT-mediated retraction. Similar phenotypes were observed for tfpY single and tfpY-pilT double knockout mutants of group III strain PA14. A PilAV-TfpY chimera produced few surface pili, showing that the accessory proteins are specific for their cognate pilin. The genetic linkage between specific pilin and accessory genes may be evolutionarily conserved because the accessory proteins increase pilus expression on the cell surface, thereby enhancing function.
Type IV pili play important roles in a wide array of processes, including surface adhesion and twitching motility. Although archaeal genomes encode a diverse set of type IV pilus subunits, the functions for most remain unknown. We have now characterized six Haloferax volcanii pilins, PilA[1-6], each containing an identical 30-amino-acid N-terminal hydrophobic motif that is part of a larger highly conserved domain of unknown function (Duf1628). Deletion mutants lacking up to five of the six pilin genes display no significant adhesion defects; however, H. volcanii lacking all six pilins (ΔpilA[1-6]) does not adhere to glass or plastic. Consistent with these results, the expression of any one of these pilins in trans is sufficient to produce functional pili in the ΔpilA[1-6] strain. PilA1His and PilA2His only partially rescue this phenotype, whereas ΔpilA[1-6] strains expressing PilA3His or PilA4His adhere even more strongly than the parental strain. Most surprisingly, expressing either PilA5His or PilA6His in the ΔpilA[1-6] strain results in microcolony formation. A hybrid protein in which the conserved N terminus of the mature PilA1His is replaced with the corresponding N domain of FlgA1 is processed by the prepilin peptidase, but it does not assemble functional pili, leading us to conclude that Duf1628 can be annotated as the N terminus of archaeal PilA adhesion pilins. Finally, the pilin prediction program, FlaFind, which was trained primarily on archaeal flagellin sequences, was successfully refined to more accurately predict pilins based on the in vivo verification of PilA[1-6].
Type IV pili are required for social gliding motility in Myxococcus xanthus. In this work, the expression of pilin (the pilA gene product) during vegetative growth and fruiting-body development was examined. A polyclonal antibody against the pilA gene product (prepilin) was prepared, along with a pilA-lacZ fusion, and was used to assay expression of pilA in M. xanthus in different mutant backgrounds. pilA expression required the response regulator pilR but was negatively regulated by the putative sensor kinase pilS. pilA expression did not require pilB, pilC, or pilT. pilA was also autoregulated; a mutation which altered an invariant glutamate five residues from the presumed prepilin processing site eliminated this autoregulation, as did a deletion of the pilA gene. Primer extension and S1 nuclease analysis identified a sigma54 promoter upstream of pilA, consistent with the homology of pilR to the NtrC family of response regulators. Expression of pilA was found to be developmentally regulated; however, the timing of this expression pattern was not entirely dependent on pilS or pilR. Finally, pilA expression was induced by high nutrient concentrations, an effect that was also not dependent on pilS or pilR.
Clostridium perfringens is an anaerobic, Gram-positive bacterium that causes a range of diseases in humans, including lethal gas gangrene. We have recently shown that strains of C. perfringens move across the surface of agar plates by a unique type IV pilus (TFP)-mediated social motility that had not been previously described. Based on sequence homology to pilins in Gram-negative bacteria, C. perfringens appears to have two pilin subunits, PilA1 and PilA2. Structural prediction analysis indicated PilA1 is similar to the pseudopilin found in Klebsiella oxytoca, while PilA2 is more similar to true pilins found in the Gram-negative pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Strains of N. gonorrhoeae that were genetically deficient in the native pilin, PilE, but supplemented with inducible expression of PilA1 and PilA2 of C. perfringens were constructed. Genetic competence, wild-type twitching motility, and attachment to human urogenital epithelial cells were not restored by expression of either pilin. However, attachment to mouse and rat myoblast (muscle) cell lines was observed with the N. gonorrhoeae strain expressing PilA2. Significantly, wild-type C. perfringens cells adhered to mouse myoblasts under anaerobic conditions, and adherence was 10-fold lower in a pilT mutant that lacked functional TFP. These findings implicate C. perfringens TFP in the ability of C. perfringens to adhere to and move along muscle fibers in vivo, which may provide a therapeutic approach to limiting this rapidly spreading and highly lethal infection.
The virulence of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa involves the coordinate expression of many virulence factors, including type IV pili, which are required for colonization of host tissues and for twitching motility. Type IV pilus function is controlled in part by the Chp chemosensory system, which includes a histidine kinase, ChpA, and two CheY-like response regulators, PilG and PilH. How the Chp components interface with the type IV pilus motor proteins PilB, PilT, and PilU is unknown. We present genetic evidence confirming the role of ChpA, PilG, and PilB in the regulation of pilus extension and the role of PilH and PilT in regulating pilus retraction. Using informative double and triple mutants, we show that (i) ChpA, PilG, and PilB function upstream of PilH, PilT, and PilU; (ii) that PilH enhances PilT function; and (iii) that PilT and PilB retain some activity in the absence of signaling input from components of the Chp system. By site-directed mutagenesis, we demonstrate that the histidine kinase domain of ChpA and the phosphoacceptor sites of both PilG and PilH are required for type IV pilus function, suggesting that they form a phosphorelay system important in the regulation of pilus extension and retraction. Finally, we present evidence suggesting that pilA transcription is regulated by intracellular PilA levels. We show that PilA is a negative regulator of pilA transcription in P. aeruginosa and that the Chp system functionally regulates pilA transcription by controlling PilA import and export.
PilA, the major pilin subunit of Pseudomonas aeruginosa type IV pili (T4P), is a principal structural component. PilA has a conserved C-terminal disulfide-bonded loop (DSL) that has been implicated as the pilus adhesinotope. Structural studies have suggested that DSL is involved in intersubunit interactions within the pilus fiber. PilA mutants with single-residue substitutions, insertions, or deletions in the DSL were tested for pilin stability, pilus assembly, and T4P function. Mutation of either Cys residue of the DSL resulted in pilins that were unable to assemble into fibers. Ala replacements of the intervening residues had a range of effects on assembly or function, as measured by changes in surface pilus expression and twitching motility. Modification of the C-terminal P-X-X-C type II beta-turn motif, which is one of the few highly conserved features in pilins across various species, caused profound defects in assembly and twitching motility. Expression of pilins with suspected assembly defects in a pilA pilT double mutant unable to retract T4P allowed us to verify which subunits were physically unable to assemble. Use of two different PilA antibodies showed that the DSL may be an immunodominant epitope in intact pili compared with pilin monomers. Sequence diversity of the type IVa pilins likely reflects an evolutionary compromise between retention of function and antigenic variation. The consequences of DSL sequence changes should be evaluated in the intact protein since it is technically feasible to generate DSL-mimetic peptides with mutations that will not appear in the natural repertoire due to their deleterious effects on assembly.
Francisella tularensis is a highly virulent intracellular human pathogen that is capable of rapid proliferation in the infected host. Mutants affected in intracellular survival and growth are highly attenuated which highlights the importance of the intracellular phase of the infection. Genomic analysis has revealed that Francisella encodes all genes required for expression of functional type IV pili (Tfp), and in this focused review we summarize recent findings regarding this system in the pathogenesis of tularemia. Tfp are dynamic adhesive structures that have been identified as major virulence determinants in several human pathogens, but it is not obvious what role these structures could have in an intracellular pathogen like Francisella. In the human pathogenic strains, genes required for secretion and assembly of Tfp and one pilin, PilA, have shown to be required for full virulence. Importantly, specific genetic differences have been identified between the different Francisella subspecies where in the most pathogenic type A variants all genes are intact while several Tfp genes are pseudogenes in the less pathogenic type B strains. This suggests that there has been a selection for expression of Tfp with different properties in the different subspecies. There is also a possibility that the genetic differences reflect adaptation to different environmental niches of the subspecies and plays a role in transmission of tularemia. This is also in line with recent findings where Tfp pilins are found to be glycosylated which could reflect a role for Tfp in the environment to promote survival and transmission. We are still far from understanding the role of Tfp in virulence and transmission of tularemia, but with the genomic information and genetic tools available we are in a good position to address these issues in the future.
Francisella tularensis; type IV pili; virulence; type II secretion
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus) is a leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns. Most bacterial pathogens, including gram-positive bacteria, have long filamentous structures known as pili extending from their surface. Although pili are described as adhesive organelles, they have been also implicated in many other functions including thwarting the host immune responses. We previously characterized the pilus-encoding operon PI-2a (gbs1479-1474) in strain NEM316. This pilus is composed of three structural subunit proteins: PilA (Gbs1478), PilB (Gbs1477), and PilC (Gbs1474), and its assembly involves two class C sortases (SrtC3 and SrtC4). PilB, the bona fide pilin, is the major component whereas PilA, the pilus associated adhesin, and PilC the pilus anchor are both accessory proteins incorporated into the pilus backbone.
In this study, the role of the major pilin subunit PilB was tested in systemic virulence using 6-weeks old and newborn mice. Notably, the non-piliated ΔpilB mutant was less virulent than its wild-type counterpart in the newborn mice model. Next, we investigated the possible role(s) of PilB in resistance to innate immune host defenses, i.e. resistance to macrophage killing and to antimicrobial peptides. Phagocytosis and survival of wild-type NEM316 and its isogenic ΔpilB mutant in immortalized RAW 264.7 murine macrophages were not significantly different whereas the isogenic ΔsodA mutant was more susceptible to killing. These results were confirmed using primary peritoneal macrophages. We also tested the activities of five cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMP-1D, LL-37, colistin, polymyxin B, and mCRAMP) and found no significant difference between WT and ΔpilB strains whereas the isogenic dltA mutant showed increased sensitivity.
These results question the previously described role of PilB pilus in resistance to the host immune defenses. Interestingly, PilB was found to be important for virulence in the neonatal context.
Type IV pili (TFP) and exopolysaccharides (EPS) are important components for social behaviors in Myxococcus xanthus, including gliding motility and fruiting body formation. Although specific interactions between TFP and EPS have been proposed, direct observations of these interactions under native condition have not yet been made. In this study, we found that a truncated PilA protein (PilACt) which only contains the C-terminal domain (amino acids 32-208) is sufficient for EPS binding in vitro. Furthermore, an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) and PilACt fusion protein was constructed and used to label the native EPS in M. xanthus. Under confocal laser scanning microscope, the eGFP-PilACt-bound fruiting bodies, trail structures and biofilms exhibited similar patterns as the wheat germ agglutinin lectin (WGA)-labeled EPS structures. This study showed that eGFP-PilACt fusion protein was able to efficiently label the EPS of M. xanthus and for the first time provided evidence for the direct interaction between the PilA protein and EPS under native conditions.
Type IV Pilin; Exopolysaccharides; Biofilm; Fruiting body; Confocal laser scanning microscopy; eGFP
Type IV pili (TFP) play central roles in the expression of many phenotypes including motility, multicellular behavior, sensitivity to bacteriophages, natural genetic transformation, and adherence. In Neisseria gonorrhoeae, these properties require ancillary proteins that act in conjunction with TFP expression and influence organelle dynamics. Here, the intrinsic contributions of the pilin protein itself to TFP dynamics and associated phenotypes were examined by expressing the Pseudomonas aeruginosa PilAPAK pilin subunit in N. gonorrhoeae. We show here that, although PilAPAK pilin can be readily assembled into TFP in this background, steady-state levels of purifiable fibers are dramatically reduced relative those of endogenous pili. This defect is due to aberrant TFP dynamics as it is suppressed in the absence of the PilT pilus retraction ATPase. Functionally, PilAPAK pilin complements gonococcal adherence for human epithelial cells but only in a pilT background, and this property remains dependent on the coexpression of both the PilC adhesin and the PilV pilin-like protein. Since P. aeruginosa pilin only moderately supports neisserial sequence-specific transformation despite its assembly proficiency, these results together suggest that PilAPAK pilin functions suboptimally in this environment. This appears to be due to diminished compatibility with resident proteins essential for TFP function and dynamics. Despite this, PilAPAK pili support retractile force generation in this background equivalent to that reported for endogenous pili. Furthermore, PilAPAK pili are both necessary and sufficient for bacteriophage PO4 binding, although the strain remains phage resistant. Together, these findings have significant implications for TFP biology in both N. gonorrhoeae and P. aeruginosa.
The human pathogen Eikenella corrodens synthesizes type IV pili and exhibits a phase variation involving the irreversible transition from piliated to nonpiliated variants. On solid medium, piliated variants form small (S-phase), corroding colonies whereas nonpiliated variants form large (L-phase), noncorroding colonies. We are studying the molecular basis of this phase variation in the clinical isolate E. corrodens VA1. A genomic fragment encoding the major type IV pilin was cloned from the S-phase variant of strain VA1. Sequence analysis of the fragment revealed four tandemly arranged potential open reading frames (ORFs), designated pilA1, pilA2, pilB, and hagA. Both pilA1 and pilA2 predict a type IV pilin. The protein predicted by pilB shares sequence identity with the Dichelobacter nodosus FimB fimbrial assembly protein. The protein predicted by hagA resembles a hemagglutinin. The region containing these four ORFs was designated the pilA locus. DNA hybridization and sequence analysis showed that the pilA locus of an L-phase variant of strain VA1 was identical to that of the S-phase variant. An abundant pilA1 transcript initiating upstream of pilA1 and terminating at a predicted hairpin structure between pilA1 and pilA2 was detected by several assays, as was a less abundant read-through transcript encompassing pilA1, pilA2, and pilB. Transcription from the pilA locus was nearly indistinguishable between S- and L-phase variants. Electron microscopy and immunochemical analysis showed that S-phase variants synthesize, export, and assemble pilin into pili. In contrast, L-phase variants synthesize pilin but do not export and assemble it into pili. These data suggest that a posttranslational event, possibly involving an alteration in pilin export and assembly, is responsible for phase variation in E. corrodens.
In Gram-negative bacteria, type IV pili (TFP) have long been known to play important roles in such diverse biological phenomena as surface adhesion, motility, and DNA transfer, with significant consequences for pathogenicity. More recently it became apparent that Gram-positive bacteria also express type IV pili; however, little is known about the diversity and abundance of these structures in Gram-positives. Computational tools for automated identification of type IV pilins are not currently available.
To assess TFP diversity in Gram-positive bacteria and facilitate pilin identification, we compiled a comprehensive list of putative Gram-positive pilins encoded by operons containing highly conserved pilus biosynthetic genes (pilB, pilC). A surprisingly large number of species were found to contain multiple TFP operons (pil, com and/or tad). The N-terminal sequences of predicted pilins were exploited to develop PilFind, a rule-based algorithm for genome-wide identification of otherwise poorly conserved type IV pilins in any species, regardless of their association with TFP biosynthetic operons (http://signalfind.org). Using PilFind to scan 53 Gram-positive genomes (encoding >187,000 proteins), we identified 286 candidate pilins, including 214 in operons containing TFP biosynthetic genes (TBG+ operons). Although trained on Gram-positive pilins, PilFind identified 55 of 58 manually curated Gram-negative pilins in TBG+ operons, as well as 53 additional pilin candidates in operons lacking biosynthetic genes in ten species (>38,000 proteins), including 27 of 29 experimentally verified pilins. False positive rates appear to be low, as PilFind predicted only four pilin candidates in eleven bacterial species (>13,000 proteins) lacking TFP biosynthetic genes.
We have shown that Gram-positive bacteria contain a highly diverse set of type IV pili. PilFind can be an invaluable tool to study bacterial cellular processes known to involve type IV pilus-like structures. Its use in combination with other currently available computational tools should improve the accuracy of predicting the subcellular localization of bacterial proteins.
The genetic organization of the gene cluster containing pilA, the structural gene for type IV pilin of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as the accessory genes pilB, pilC, and pilD, has been studied. DNA sequences capable of initiating transcription when fused to a promoterless lacZ gene have been identified in the pilA-pilB and pilB-pilC intergenic regions. Unlike pilA, which requires rpoN (encoding the sigma 54 subunit of RNA polymerase) and products of two regulatory genes, pilS and pilR, expression of pilB, pilC, or pilD did not depend on any of these transcriptional regulators. Moreover, transcription of pilA from the tac promoter in an rpoN mutant background resulted in piliated bacteria, suggesting that the RpoN-based regulatory network is specific for pilA and does not control expression of any other genes necessary for formation of pili. Insertion of the omega fragment containing strong transcriptional terminators into pilB, pilC, and pilD failed to have a polar effect on expression of downstream genes, as determined by the ability of each cloned gene to complement, in trans, the corresponding insertionally inactivated chromosomal copy. Insertions into pilC, however, resulted in decreased synthesis of PilD as determined by quantitation of PilD enzymatic activity in processing prepilin in vitro and by immunoassay. This finding suggests that PilD may require PilC for its optimal stability or correct membrane localization.
Pseudomonas stutzeri lives in terrestrial and aquatic habitats and is capable of natural genetic transformation. After transposon mutagenesis, transformation-deficient mutants were isolated from a P. stutzeri JM300 strain. In one of them a gene which coded for a protein with 75% amino acid sequence identity to PilC of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an accessory protein for type IV pilus biogenesis, was inactivated. The presence of type IV pili was demonstrated by susceptibility to the type IV pilus-dependent phage PO4, by occurrence of twitching motility, and by electron microscopy. The pilC mutant had no pili and was defective in twitching motility. Further sequencing revealed that pilC is clustered in an operon with genes homologous to pilB and pilD of P. aeruginosa, which are also involved in pilus formation. Next to these genes but transcribed in the opposite orientation a pilA gene encoding a protein with high amino acid sequence identity to pilin, the structural component of type IV pili, was identified. Insertional inactivation of pilA abolished pilus formation, PO4 plating, twitching motility, and natural transformation. The amounts of 3H-labeled P. stutzeri DNA that were bound to competent parental cells and taken up were strongly reduced in the pilC and pilA mutants. Remarkably, the cloned pilA genes from nontransformable organisms like Dichelobacter nodosus and the PAK and PAO strains of P. aeruginosa fully restored pilus formation and transformability of the P. stutzeri pilA mutant (along with PO4 plating and twitching motility). It is concluded that the type IV pili of the soil bacterium P. stutzeri function in DNA uptake for transformation and that their role in this process is not confined to the species-specific pilin.
Type IV pili (Tfp) are expressed by many Gram-negative bacteria to promote aggregation, adhesion, internalization, twitching motility, or natural transformation. Tfp of Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of cerebrospinal meningitis, are involved in the colonization of human nasopharynx. After invasion of the bloodstream, Tfp allow adhesion of N. meningitidis to human endothelial cells, which leads to the opening of the blood-brain barrier and meningitis. To achieve firm adhesion, N. meningitidis induces a host cell response that results in elongation of microvilli surrounding the meningococcal colony. Here we study the role of the major pilin subunit PilE during host cell response using human dermal microvascular endothelial cells and the pharynx carcinoma-derived FaDu epithelial cell line. We first show that some PilE variants are unable to induce a host cell response. By engineering PilE mutants, we observed that the PilE C-terminus domain, which contains a disulfide bonded region (D-region), is critical for the host cell response and that hypervariable regions confer different host cell specificities. Moreover, the study of point mutants of the pilin D-region combined with structural modeling of PilE revealed that the D-region contains two independent regions involved in signaling to human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HDMECs) or FaDu cells. Our results indicate that the diversity of the PilE D-region sequence allows the induction of the host cell response via several receptors. This suggests that Neisseria meningitidis has evolved a powerful tool to adapt easily to many niches by modifying its ability to interact with host cells.
Type IV pili (Tfp) are long appendages expressed by many Gram-negative bacteria, including Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of cerebrospinal meningitis. These pili are involved in many aspects of pathogenesis: natural competence, aggregation, adhesion, and twitching motility. More specifically, Neisseria meningitidis, which is devoid of a secretion system to manipulate its host, has evolved its Tfp to signal to brain endothelial cells and open the blood-brain barrier. In this report, we investigate, at the molecular level, the involvement of the major pilin subunit PilE in host cell response. Our results indicate that the PilE C-terminal domain, which contains a disulfide bonded region (D-region), is critical for the host cell response and contains two independent regions involved in host cell signaling.
The ubiquitous species Pseudomonas stutzeri has type IV pili, and these are essential for the natural transformation of the cells. An absolute transformation-deficient mutant obtained after transposon mutagenesis had an insertion in a gene which was termed pilT. The deduced amino acid sequence has identity with PilT of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (94%), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (67%), and other gram-negative species and it contains a nucleotide-binding motif. The mutant was hyperpiliated but defective for further pilus-associated properties, such as twitching motility and plating of pilus-specific phage PO4. [3H]thymidine-labeled DNA was bound by the mutant but not taken up. Downstream of pilT a gene, termed pilU, coding for a putative protein with 88% amino acid identity with PilU of P. aeruginosa was identified. Insertional inactivation did not affect piliation, twitching motility, or PO4 infection but reduced transformation to about 10%. The defect was fully complemented by PilU of nontransformable P. aeruginosa. When the pilAI gene (coding for the type IV pilus prepilin) was manipulated to code for a protein in which the six C-terminal amino acids were replaced by six histidine residues and then expressed from a plasmid, it gave a nonpiliated and twitching motility-defective phenotype in pilAI::Gmr cells but allowed transformability. Moreover, the mutant allele suppressed the absolute transformation deficiency caused by the pilT mutation. Considering the hypothesized role of pilT+ in pilus retraction and the presumed requirement of retraction for DNA uptake, it is proposed that the pilT-independent transformation is promoted by PilA mutant protein either as single molecules or as minimal pilin assembly structures in the periplasm which may resemble depolymerized pili and that these cause the outer membrane pores to open for DNA entry.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa type IV pili (T4P) are virulence factors that promote infection of cystic fibrosis and immunosuppressed patients. As the absence of T4P impairs colonization, they are attractive targets for the development of novel therapeutics. Genes in the pilMNOPQ operon are important for both T4P assembly and a form of bacterial movement, called twitching motility, that is required for pathogenicity. The type II membrane proteins, PilN and PilO, dimerize via their periplasmic domains and anchor this complex in the inner membrane. Our earlier work showed that PilNO binds PilP, a periplasmic lipoprotein (S. Tammam, L. M. Sampaleanu, J. Koo, P. Sundaram, M. Ayers, P. A. Chong, J. D. Forman-Kay, L. L. Burrows, and P. L. Howell, Mol. Microbiol. 82:1496–1514, 2011). Here, we show that PilP interacts with the N0 segment of the outer membrane secretin PilQ via its C-terminal domain, and that the N-terminal cytoplasmic tail of PilN binds to the actin-like protein PilM, thereby connecting all cellular compartments via the PilMNOPQ protein interaction network. We show that PilA, the major pilin subunit, interacts with PilNOPQ. The results allow us to propose a model whereby PilA makes extensive contacts with the transenvelope complex, possibly to increase local concentrations of PilA monomers for polymerization. The PilNOP complex could provide a stable anchor in the inner membrane, while the PilMNOPQ transenvelope complex facilitates transit of the pilus through the periplasm and clamps the pilus in the cell envelope. The PilMN interaction is proposed to be responsible for communicating signals from the cytoplasmic to periplasmic components of this complex macromolecular machine.
The pilA gene of Neisseria gonorrhoeae was initially identified in a screen for transcriptional regulators of pilE, the expression locus for pilin, the major structural component of gonococcal pili. The predicted protein sequence for PilA has significant homology to two GTPases of the mammalian signal recognition particle (SRP), SRP54 and SRα. Homologs of SRP54 and SRα were subsequently identified in bacteria (Ffh and FtsY, respectively) and appear to form an SRP-like apparatus in prokaryotes. Of the two proteins, PilA is the most similar to FtsY (47% identical and 67% similar at the amino acid level). Like FtsY, PilA is essential for viability and hydrolyzes GTP. The similarities between PilA and the bacterial FtsY led us to ask whether PilA might function as the gonococcal FtsY. In this work, we show that overproduction of PilA in Escherichia coli leads to an accumulation of pre-β-lactamase, similar to previous observations with other bacterial SRP components. Low-level expression of pilA in an ftsY conditional mutant can complement the ftsY mutation and restore normal growth to this strain under nonpermissive conditions. In addition, purified PilA can replace FtsY in an in vitro translocation assay using purified E. coli SRP components. A PilA mutant that is severely affected in its GTPase activity cannot replace FtsY in vivo or in vitro. However, overexpression of the GTPase mutant leads to the accumulation of pre-β-lactamase, suggesting that the mutant protein may interact with the SRP apparatus to affect protein maturation. Taken together, these results show that the gonococcal PilA is an FtsY homolog and that the GTPase activity is necessary for its function.