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Future Microbiol. 2010 May;5(5):735-47. doi: 10.2217/fmb.10.37.

Relevance of pili in pathogenic streptococci pathogenesis and vaccine development.

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Microbial Molecular Biology Department, Novartis Vaccines, Via Fiorentina 1, 53100 Siena, Italy.


A common mechanism used by bacteria to initiate adhesion to host tissues during colonization is the expression of long filamentous structures extending from their surface. These structures, known as pili or fimbriae, were initially identified in Gram-negative bacteria, and are typically formed by noncovalent interactions between pilin subunits. Pili have only recently been described in Gram-positive bacteria. In particular, in pathogenic streptococci the proteinaceous components of pili are covalently polymerized by the action of sortase enzymes similar to those involved in the covalent attachment of Gram-positive surface proteins to the peptidoglycan cell wall. With great relevance to the development of strategies to combat Gram-positive-associated infections, pilus components from pathogenic streptococci have been shown to induce protective immunity in mouse models of streptococcal disease. In addition, recent papers have created new perspectives on the role of such organelles in streptococcal pathogenesis, from the involvement in colonization and biofilm formation to translocation of tissue barriers. All this information makes the characterization of pili a hot scientific issue that we believe will lead to important future developments in understanding bacterial dynamics that lead to successful occupation of microbial niches.

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