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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Sep;49(6):1671-83.

The HfaB and HfaD adhesion proteins of Caulobacter crescentus are localized in the stalk.

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Department of Biology, Jordan Hall 142, Indiana University, 1001 E. 3rd St, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The differentiating bacterium Caulobacter crescentus produces two different cell types at each cell division, a motile swarmer cell and an adhesive stalked cell. The stalked cell harbours a stalk, a thin cylindrical extension of the cell surface. The tip of the stalk is decorated with a holdfast, an adhesive organelle composed at least in part of polysaccharides. The synthesis of the stalk and holdfast occur at the same pole during swarmer cell differentiation. Mutations in the hfaABDC gene cluster had been shown to disrupt the attachment of the holdfast to the tip of the stalk, but the role of individual genes was unknown. We used lacZ fusions of various DNA fragments from the hfaABDC region to show that these genes form an operon. In order to analyse the relative contribution of the different genes to holdfast attachment, mutations were constructed for each gene. hfaC was not required for holdfast attachment or binding to surfaces. The hfaA and hfaD mutants shed some holdfast material into the surrounding medium and were partially deficient in binding to surfaces. Unlike hfaA and hfaB mutants, hfaD mutants were still able to form rosettes efficiently. Cells with insertions in hfaB were unable to bind to surfaces, and lectin binding studies indicated that the hfaB mutants had the strongest holdfast shedding phenotype. We determined that HfaB and HfaD are membrane-associated proteins and that HfaB is a lipoprotein. Purification of stalks and cell bodies indicated that both HfaB and HfaD are enriched in the stalk as compared to the cell body. These results suggest that HfaB and HfaD, and probably HfaA, serve to anchor the holdfast to the tip of the stalk.

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