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Summary

Bacterial motilities participate in biofilm development. However, it is unknown how/if bacterial motility affects formation of the biofilm matrix. Psl polysaccharide is a key biofilm matrix component of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Here we report that type IV pili (T4P)-mediated bacterial migration leads to the formation of a fibre-like Psl matrix. Deletion of T4P in wild type and flagella-deficient strains results in loss of the Psl-fibres and reduction of biofilm biomass in flow cell biofilms as well as pellicles at air-liquid interface. Bacteria lacking T4P-driven twitching motility including those that still express surface T4P are unable to form the Psl-fibres. Formation of a Psl-fibre matrix is critical for efficient biofilm formation, yet does not require flagella and polysaccharide Pel or alginate. The Psl-fibres are likely formed by Psl released from bacteria during T4P-mediated migration, a strategy similar to spider web formation. Starvation can couple Psl release and T4P-driven twitching motility. Furthermore, a radial-pattern Psl-fibre matrix is present in the middle of biofilms, a nutrient-deprived region. These imply a plausible model for how bacteria respond to nutrient-limited local environment to build a polysaccharide-fibre matrix by T4P-dependent bacterial migration strategy. This strategy may have general significance for bacterial survival in natural and clinical settings.