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J Bacteriol. 1990 Nov;172(11):6411-8.

Isolation and characterization of mutants with lesions affecting pellicle formation and erythrocyte agglutination by type 1 piliated Escherichia coli.

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Department of Microbiology, Pathology and Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27606.


The product of the pilE (also called fimH) gene is a minor component of type 1 pili in Escherichia coli. Mutants that have insertions in the pilE gene are fully piliated but unable to bind to and agglutinate guinea pig erythrocytes, a characteristic of wild-type type 1 piliated E. coli. In this paper we describe the isolation of 48 mutants with point lesions that map to the pilE gene. Such mutants were isolated by using mutT mutagenesis and an enrichment procedure devised to favor the growth of individuals that could form a pellicle in static broth containing alpha-methylmannoside, an inhibitor of erythrocyte binding and pellicle formation. Results indicated that the enrichment favored mutants expressing pilE gene products that were defective in mediating erythrocyte binding. Characterization of 12 of the mutants in greater detail revealed that certain lesions affected pilus number and length. In addition, a mutant that was temperature sensitive for erythrocyte binding was isolated and used to provide evidence that pellicle formation relies on the intercellular interaction of pilE gene products. Our results suggest a molecular explanation for the old and paradoxical observations connecting pellicle formation and erythrocyte agglutination by type 1 piliated E. coli.

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