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Mol Microbiol. 2000 Feb;35(4):896-910.

Delineation of pilin domains required for bacterial association into microcolonies and intestinal colonization by Vibrio cholerae.

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Dartmouth Medical School, Department of Microbiology, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


The toxin-co-regulated pilus (TCP), a type 4 pilus that is expressed by epidemic strains of Vibrio cholerae O1 and O139, is required for colonization of the human intestine. The TCP structure is assembled as a polymer of repeating subunits of TcpA pilin that form long fibres, which laterally associate into bundles. Previous passive immunization studies have suggested that the C-terminal region of TcpA is exposed on the surface of the pilus fibre and has a critical role in mediating the colonization functions of TCP. In the present study, we have used site-directed mutagenesis to delineate two domains within the C-terminal region that contribute to TCP structure and function. Alterations in the first domain, termed the structural domain, result in altered pilus stability or morphology. Alterations in the second domain, termed the interaction domain, affect colonization and/or infection by CTX-bacteriophage without affecting pilus morphology. In vitro and in vivo analyses of the tcpA mutants revealed that a major function of TCP is to mediate bacterial interaction through direct pilus-pilus contact required for microcolony formation and productive intestinal colonization. The importance of this function is supported by the finding that intragenic suppressor mutations that restore colonization ability to colonization-deficient mutants simultaneously restore pilus-mediated bacterial interactions. The alterations resulting from the suppressor mutations also provide insight into the molecular interactions between pilin subunits within and between pilus fibres.

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