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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Dec 9;105(49):19456-61. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807717105. Epub 2008 Dec 1.

A zinc-dependent adhesion module is responsible for intercellular adhesion in staphylococcal biofilms.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry, and Microbiology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH 45267-0524, USA.


Hospital-acquired bacterial infections are an increasingly important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Staphylococcal species are responsible for the majority of hospital-acquired infections, which are often complicated by the ability of staphylococci to grow as biofilms. Biofilm formation by Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus aureus requires cell-surface proteins (Aap and SasG) containing sequence repeats known as G5 domains; however, the precise role of these proteins in biofilm formation is unclear. We show here, using analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC) and circular dichroism (CD), that G5 domains from Aap are zinc (Zn(2+))-dependent adhesion modules analogous to mammalian cadherin domains. The G5 domain dimerizes in the presence of Zn(2+), incorporating 2-3 Zn(2+) ions in the dimer interface. Tandem G5 domains associate in a modular fashion, suggesting a "zinc zipper" mechanism for G5 domain-based intercellular adhesion in staphylococcal biofilms. We demonstrate, using a biofilm plate assay, that Zn(2+) chelation specifically prevents biofilm formation by S. epidermidis and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Furthermore, individual soluble G5 domains inhibit biofilm formation in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, the complex three-dimensional architecture of staphylococcal biofilms results from the self-association of a single type of protein domain. Surface proteins with tandem G5 domains are also found in other bacterial species, suggesting that this mechanism for intercellular adhesion in biofilms may be conserved among staphylococci and other Gram-positive bacteria. Zn(2+) chelation represents a potential therapeutic approach for combating biofilm growth in a wide range of bacterial biofilm-related infections.

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