Characterization of a gene, pilU, required for twitching motility but not phage sensitivity in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

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Summary

Type 4 fimbriae (or pili) are associated with a form of bacterial surface translocation known as twitching motility. Fimbriae are also associated with sensitivity to certain bacteriophages such as PO4. Transposon mutagenesis was used to generate a library of Pseudomonas aeruginosa mutants which lack the spreading-colony morphology characteristic of twitching motility. in four of these mutants the transposon was found to be located in the vicinity of the previously described pilT locus, but in only one case was it found to have inserted within the pilT coding sequence. Two twitching-motility mutants originally isolated by Bradley, K2.2, and PAO2001.2, which have been widely used in studies of P. aeruginosa fimbrial structure and expression, were also shown to affect pilT and to comprise a small deletion and a frameshift mutation, respectively. The other three transposon mutations were found to have occurred within a new gene located directly downstream of pilT. This gene, termed pilU, encodes a 382-amino-acid protein closely related to PilT and to other members of a family of putative nucleotide-binding proteins which are involved in the assembly of ceil surface-associated complexes. Furthermore, the pilT and pilU genes appear to be independently expressed. Like pilT mutants, the pilU mutants were hyperfimbriate, but in neither case was this associated with an increase in transcription of the fimbrial subunit gene pilA. However, in contrast to pilT mutants, the pilU mutants had not also acquired resistance to infection by bacteriophage P04. A broader survey showed differential patterns of sensitivity to various fimbrial-specific phages among the pilU mutants and other twitching-motility mutants in the transposon library. The fact that twitching motility is not obligatorily associated with phage sensitivity suggests that the latter may not be directly dependent upon fimbrial function but rather may be a consequence of some common factor(s) involved in their assembly or export pathways.

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