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J Bacteriol. 2006 Feb;188(4):1526-33.

Assembly of distinct pilus structures on the surface of Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Microbial, and Structural Biology, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Ave., Farmington, Connecticut 06030, USA.


Different surface organelles contribute to specific interactions of a pathogen with host tissues or infectious partners. Multiple pilus gene clusters potentially encoding different surface structures have been identified in several gram-positive bacterial genomes sequenced to date, including actinomycetales, clostridia, corynebacteria, and streptococci. Corynebacterium diphtheriae has been shown to assemble a pilus structure, with sortase SrtA essential for the assembly of a major subunit SpaA and two minor proteins, SpaB and SpaC. We report here the characterization of a second pilus consisting of SpaD, SpaE, and SpaF, of which SpaD and SpaE form the pilus shaft and SpaF may be located at the pilus tip. The structure of the SpaDEF pilus contains no SpaABC pilins as detected by immunoelectron microscopy. Neither deletion of spaA nor sortase srtA abolishes SpaDEF pilus formation. The assembly of the SpaDEF pilus requires specific sortases located within the SpaDEF pilus gene cluster. Although either sortase SrtB or SrtC is sufficient to polymerize SpaDF, the incorporation of SpaE into the SpaD pili requires sortase SrtB. In addition, an alanine in place of the lysine of the SpaD pilin motif abrogates pilus polymerization. Thus, SpaD, SpaE, and SpaF constitute a different pilus structure that is independently assembled and morphologically distinct from the SpaABC pili and possibly other pili of C. diphtheriae.

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