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Mol Microbiol. 2012 Jan;83(1):7-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07913.x. Epub 2011 Nov 18.

Reflections on a sticky situation: how surface contact pulls the trigger for bacterial adhesion.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine, University of Geneva, 1 rue Michel-Servet, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.


Adhesion of bacterial cells to surfaces can be mediated by a wide variety of extracellular structures, which can either recognize specific molecular motifs or adhere in non-specific ways to multiple types of surfaces. The attachment is thought to be highly regulated, but the underlying sensory mechanism(s) are poorly understood. In the α-proteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus, the formation of adhesive organelles is 'hardwired' into the cell cycle regulatory circuitry. In this issue of Molecular Microbiology, Li et al. (2011) employed this model organism to examine the adhesion process and the transition from temporary to permanent attachment using total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy. Surprisingly, they observed that adhesin production was not only under developmental control, but was also stimulated by surface contact. Initial reversible contact of the pili with the surface was followed by flagellum rotation arrest and subsequent induction of the holdfast to allow irreversible surface adhesion. These findings demonstrate that Caulobacter produces its holdfast only at the appropriate time for surface attachment, preventing premature export of the adhesin, which could then be inactivated by 'curing' or be masked by occluding particles. Importantly, their results support the notion that the flagellum serves as a mechanosensor for adhesion.

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