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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Dec;14(12):3188-202. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2012.02898.x. Epub 2012 Oct 19.

Structure and function of the adhesive type IV pilus of Sulfolobus acidocaldarius.

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Molecular Biology of Archaea, Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Karl-von-Frisch-Strasse 10, 35043, Marburg, Germany.


Archaea display a variety of type IV pili on their surface and employ them in different physiological functions. In the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius the most abundant surface structure is the aap pilus (archaeal adhesive pilus). The construction of in frame deletions of the aap genes revealed that all the five genes (aapA, aapX, aapE, aapF, aapB) are indispensible for assembly of the pilus and an impact on surface motility and biofilm formation was observed. Our analyses revealed that there exists a regulatory cross-talk between the expression of aap genes and archaella (formerly archaeal flagella) genes during different growth phases. The structure of the aap pilus is entirely different from the known bacterial type IV pili as well as other archaeal type IV pili. An aap pilus displayed 3 stranded helices where there is a rotation per subunit of ∼138° and a rise per subunit of ∼5.7 Å. The filaments have a diameter of ∼110 Å and the resolution was judged to be ∼9 Å. We concluded that small changes in sequence might be amplified by large changes in higher-order packing. Our finding of an extraordinary stability of aap pili possibly represents an adaptation to harsh environments that S. acidocaldarius encounters.

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