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Summary

Streptococci are clinically important Gram-positive bacteria that are capable to cause a wide variety of diseases in humans and animals. Phylogenetic analyses based on 16S rRNA sequences of the streptococcal species reveal a clustering pattern, reflecting, with a few exceptions, their pathogenic potential and ecological preferences. Microbial adhesion to host tissues is the initial critical event in the pathogenesis of most infections. Streptococci use multiple adhesins to attach to the epithelium, and their expression is regulated in response to environmental and growth conditions. Bacterial adhesins recognize and bind cell surface molecules and extracellular matrix components through specific domains that for certain adhesin families have been well defined and found conserved across the streptococcal species. In this review, we present the different streptococcal adhesin families categorized on the basis of their adhesive properties and structural characteristics, and, when available, we focus the attention on conserved functional domains.