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Mol Microbiol. 2008 May;68(4):827-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2008.06197.x. Epub 2008 Apr 8.

Type IV pili: e pluribus unum?

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Department of Microbiology, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


The widespread role of pili as colonization factors in pathogens has long been recognized in Gram-negative bacteria and more recently in Gram-positive bacteria, making the study of these hair-like filaments a perennial hot topic for research. No other pili are found in as many or as diverse bacteria as type IV pili. This is likely a consequence of their ancient origin and unique ability to promote multiple and strikingly different phenotypes such as attachment to surfaces, aggregation, uptake of DNA during transformation, motility, etc. Two decades of investigations in several model species have shed some light on the structure of these filaments and the molecular basis of some of the properties they confer. Moreover, recent discoveries have led to a better knowledge of the genetic basis and molecular mechanisms of type IV pili biogenesis. This brings us a few steps closer to understanding how these filaments are produced, but leaves us wondering whether (as in the famous motto that inspired the title) out of the many models studied will emerge one unifying mechanism.

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