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J Bacteriol. 2012 Aug;194(16):4285-94. doi: 10.1128/JB.00803-12. Epub 2012 Jun 8.

Type IV pilus assembly in Pseudomonas aeruginosa over a broad range of cyclic di-GMP concentrations.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen that utilizes polar type IV pili (T4P) for twitching motility and adhesion in the environment and during infection. Pilus assembly requires FimX, a GGDEF/EAL domain protein that binds and hydrolyzes cyclic di-GMP (c-di-GMP). Bacteria lacking FimX are deficient in twitching motility and microcolony formation. We carried out an extragenic suppressor screen in PA103ΔfimX bacteria to identify additional regulators of pilus assembly. Multiple suppressor mutations were mapped to PA0171, PA1121 (yfiR), and PA3703 (wspF), three genes previously associated with small-colony-variant phenotypes. Multiple independent techniques confirmed that suppressors assembled functional surface pili, though at both polar and nonpolar sites. Whole-cell c-di-GMP levels were elevated in suppressor strains, in agreement with previous studies that had shown that the disrupted genes encoded negative regulators of diguanylate cyclases. Overexpression of the regulated diguanylate cyclases was sufficient to suppress the ΔfimX pilus assembly defect, as was overexpression of an unrelated diguanylate cyclase from Caulobacter crescentus. Furthermore, under natural conditions of high c-di-GMP, PA103ΔfimX formed robust biofilms that showed T4P staining and were structurally distinct from those formed by nonpiliated bacteria. These results are the first demonstration that P. aeruginosa assembles a surface organelle, type IV pili, over a broad range of c-di-GMP concentrations. Assembly of pili at low c-di-GMP concentrations requires a polarly localized c-di-GMP binding protein and phosphodiesterase, FimX; this requirement for FimX is bypassed at high c-di-GMP concentrations. Thus, P. aeruginosa can assemble the same surface organelle in distinct ways for motility or adhesion under very different environmental conditions.

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