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1.  PilA localization affects extracellular polysaccharide production and fruiting body formation in Myxococcus xanthus 
Molecular microbiology  2010;76(6):1500-1513.
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.
PMCID: PMC2935901  PMID: 20444090
Myxococcus xanthus; type four pili; PilA; extracellular polysaccharide
2.  Characterization of Four Type IV Pilin Homologues in Stigmatella aurantiaca DSM17044 by Heterologous Expression in Myxococcus xanthus 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75105.
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.
PMCID: PMC3776727  PMID: 24058653
3.  Disparate Subcellular Localization Patterns of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pilus ATPases Involved in Twitching Motility 
Journal of Bacteriology  2005;187(3):829-839.
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.
PMCID: PMC545728  PMID: 15659660
4.  Novel Proteins That Modulate Type IV Pilus Retraction Dynamics in Pseudomonas aeruginosa▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(21):7022-7034.
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.
PMCID: PMC2580705  PMID: 18776014
5.  Acinetobacter baumannii Strain M2 Produces Type IV Pili Which Play a Role in Natural Transformation and Twitching Motility but Not Surface-Associated Motility 
mBio  2013;4(4):e00360-13.
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.
PMCID: PMC3735195  PMID: 23919995
6.  Role of the Eikenella corrodens pilA Locus in Pilus Function and Phase Variation 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(1):55-62.
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.
PMCID: PMC94849  PMID: 11114900
7.  The type IV pilin, PilA, is required for full virulence of Francisella tularensis subspecies tularensis 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:227.
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.
PMCID: PMC2941502  PMID: 20796283
8.  Regulation of expression of the pilA gene in Myxococcus xanthus. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(24):7748-7758.
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.
PMCID: PMC179738  PMID: 9401034
9.  Novel Archaeal Adhesion Pilins with a Conserved N Terminus 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(17):3808-3818.
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].
PMCID: PMC3754589  PMID: 23794623
10.  Dual Role for Pilus in Adherence to Epithelial Cells and Biofilm Formation in Streptococcus agalactiae 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(5):e1000422.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC2674936  PMID: 19424490
11.  Expression of a Clostridium perfringens Type IV Pilin by Neisseria gonorrhoeae Mediates Adherence to Muscle Cells ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(8):3096-3105.
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.
PMCID: PMC3147591  PMID: 21646450
12.  Single-Residue Changes in the C-Terminal Disulfide-Bonded Loop of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pilin Influence Pilus Assembly and Twitching Motility▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(21):6513-6524.
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.
PMCID: PMC2795284  PMID: 19717595
13.  Genetic Analysis of the Regulation of Type IV Pilus Function by the Chp Chemosensory System of Pseudomonas aeruginosa▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(4):994-1010.
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.
PMCID: PMC2812951  PMID: 20008072
14.  Direct visualization of the interaction between pilin and exopolysaccharides of Myxococcus xanthus with eGFP fused PilA protein 
FEMS microbiology letters  2011;326(1):23-30.
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.
PMCID: PMC3454480  PMID: 22092602
Type IV Pilin; Exopolysaccharides; Biofilm; Fruiting body; Confocal laser scanning microscopy; eGFP
15.  Eikenella corrodens Phase Variation Involves a Posttranslational Event in Pilus Formation 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(14):4154-4160.
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.
PMCID: PMC93914  PMID: 10400570
16.  Genetic and functional characterization of the gene cluster specifying expression of Pseudomonas aeruginosa pili. 
Infection and Immunity  1993;61(4):1371-1377.
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.
PMCID: PMC281373  PMID: 7681046
17.  Type IV Pili in Francisella – A Virulence Trait in an Intracellular Pathogen 
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.
PMCID: PMC3109291  PMID: 21687421
Francisella tularensis; type IV pili; virulence; type II secretion
18.  The GBS PI-2a Pilus Is Required for Virulence in Mice Neonates 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18747.
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.
Methodology/Principal Findings
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.
PMCID: PMC3078112  PMID: 21525979
19.  Evidence for the Sialylation of PilA, the PI-2a Pilus-Associated Adhesin of Streptococcus agalactiae Strain NEM316 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(9):e0138103.
Streptococcus agalactiae (or Group B Streptococcus, GBS) is a commensal bacterium present in the intestinal and urinary tracts of approximately 30% of humans. We and others previously showed that the PI-2a pilus polymers, made of the backbone pilin PilB, the tip adhesin PilA and the cell wall anchor protein PilC, promote adhesion to host epithelia and biofilm formation. Affinity-purified PI-2a pili from GBS strain NEM316 were recognized by N-acetylneuraminic acid (NeuNAc, also known as sialic acid) specific lectins such as Elderberry Bark Lectin (EBL) suggesting that pili are sialylated. Glycan profiling with twenty different lectins combined with monosaccharide composition by HPLC suggested that affinity-purified PI-2a pili are modified by N-glycosylation and decorated with sialic acid attached to terminal galactose. Analysis of various relevant mutants in the PI-2a pilus operon by flow-cytometry and electron microscopy analyses pointed to PilA as the pilus subunit modified by glycosylation. Double labeling using PilB antibody and EBL lectin, which specifically recognizes N-acetylneuraminic acid attached to galactose in α-2, 6, revealed a characteristic binding of EBL at the tip of the pilus structures, highly reminiscent of PilA localization. Expression of a secreted form of PilA using an inducible promoter showed that this recombinant PilA binds specifically to EBL lectin when produced in the native GBS context. In silico search for potentially glycosylated asparagine residues in PilA sequence pointed to N427 and N597, which appear conserved and exposed in the close homolog RrgA from S. pneumoniae, as likely candidates. Conversion of these two asparagyl residues to glutamyl resulted in a higher instability of PilA. Our results provide the first evidence that the tip PilA adhesin can be glycosylated, and suggest that this modification is critical for PilA stability and may potentially influence interactions with the host.
PMCID: PMC4583379  PMID: 26407005
20.  Regulation of Type IV Pili Contributes to Surface Behaviors of Historical and Epidemic Strains of Clostridium difficile 
Journal of Bacteriology  2016;198(3):565-577.
The intestinal pathogen Clostridium difficile is an urgent public health threat that causes antibiotic-associated diarrhea and is a leading cause of fatal nosocomial infections in the United States. C. difficile rates of recurrence and mortality have increased in recent years due to the emergence of so-called “hypervirulent” epidemic strains. A great deal of the basic biology of C. difficile has not been characterized. Recent findings that flagellar motility, toxin synthesis, and type IV pilus (TFP) formation are regulated by cyclic diguanylate (c-di-GMP) reveal the importance of this second messenger for C. difficile gene regulation. However, the function(s) of TFP in C. difficile remains largely unknown. Here, we examine TFP-dependent phenotypes and the role of c-di-GMP in controlling TFP production in the historical 630 and epidemic R20291 strains of C. difficile. We demonstrate that TFP contribute to C. difficile biofilm formation in both strains, but with a more prominent role in R20291. Moreover, we report that R20291 is capable of TFP-dependent surface motility, which has not previously been described in C. difficile. The expression and regulation of the pilA1 pilin gene differs between R20291 and 630, which may underlie the observed differences in TFP-mediated phenotypes. The differences in pilA1 expression are attributable to greater promoter-driven transcription in R20291. In addition, R20291, but not 630, upregulates c-di-GMP levels during surface-associated growth, suggesting that the bacterium senses its substratum. The differential regulation of surface behaviors in historical and epidemic C. difficile strains may contribute to the different infection outcomes presented by these strains.
IMPORTANCE How Clostridium difficile establishes and maintains colonization of the host bowel is poorly understood. Surface behaviors of C. difficile are likely relevant during infection, representing possible interactions between the bacterium and the intestinal environment. Pili mediate bacterial interactions with various surfaces and contribute to the virulence of many pathogens. We report that type IV pili (TFP) contribute to biofilm formation by C. difficile. TFP are also required for surface motility, which has not previously been demonstrated for C. difficile. Furthermore, an epidemic-associated C. difficile strain showed higher pilin gene expression and greater dependence on TFP for biofilm production and surface motility. Differences in TFP regulation and their effects on surface behaviors may contribute to increased virulence in recent epidemic strains.
PMCID: PMC4719444  PMID: 26598364
21.  PilMNOPQ from the Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pilus System Form a Transenvelope Protein Interaction Network That Interacts with PilA 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(10):2126-2135.
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.
PMCID: PMC3650547  PMID: 23457250
22.  Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pilus Expression in Neisseria gonorrhoeae: Effects of Pilin Subunit Composition on Function and Organelle Dynamics▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(18):6676-6685.
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.
PMCID: PMC2045180  PMID: 17573479
23.  Identification of Surprisingly Diverse Type IV Pili, across a Broad Range of Gram-Positive Bacteria 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28919.
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 ( 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.
PMCID: PMC3244431  PMID: 22216142
24.  Type IV Pilus Genes pilA and pilC of Pseudomonas stutzeri Are Required for Natural Genetic Transformation, and pilA Can Be Replaced by Corresponding Genes from Nontransformable Species 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(8):2184-2190.
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.
PMCID: PMC111267  PMID: 10735861
25.  Expression, purification, crystallization and preliminary crystallographic analysis of PilA from the nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae type IV pilus 
In order to characterize the type IV pili of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae, an attempt to solve the atomic structure of the major pilin subunit PilA was initiated. A 1.73 Å resolution X-ray diffraction data set was collected from native N-terminally truncated PilA (ΔN-PilA).
The type IV pili of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) are involved in twitching motility, adherence, competence and biofilm formation. They are potential virulence factors for this important human pathogen and are thus considered to be vaccine targets. To characterize these pili, an attempt to solve the atomic structure of the major pilin subunit PilA was initiated. A 1.73 Å resolution X-ray diffraction data set was collected from native N-terminally truncated PilA (ΔN-PilA). Data processing indicated a hexagonal crystal system, which was determined to belong to space group P61 or P65 based on the systematic absences and near-perfect twinning of the crystal. The unit-cell parameters were a = b = 68.08, c = 197.03 Å with four molecules in the asymmetric unit, giving a solvent content of 50%. Attempts to solve the ΔN-­PilA structure by molecular replacement with existing type IV pilin and type II secretion pseudopilin structures are in progress.
PMCID: PMC3310531  PMID: 22442223
nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae; type IV pili; otitis media

Results 1-25 (1443990)