The gonococcal pilus, a member of the type IV family of pili,is composed of numerous monomers of the pilin protein and plays an important role in the initiation of disease by providing the primary attachment of the bacterial cell to human mucosal tissues. Piliation also correlates with efficient DNA transformation. To investigate the relationships between these pilus-related functions, the piliation state, and the availability of pilin, we constructed a derivative of MS11-C9 (ΔpilE1) in which the lacIOP regulatory sequences control pilE transcription. In this strain, MS11-C9.10, the steady-state levels of pilin mRNA and protein directly correlate with the concentration of IPTG (isopropyl-β-D-thiogalactopyranoside) in the growth medium and can reach near-wild-type levels of expression. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) demonstrated that the number of pili per cell correlated with the steady-state expression levels: at a low level of transcription, single long pili were observed; at a moderate expression level, many singular and bundled pili were expressed; and upon full gene expression, increased lateral association between pili was observed. Analysis of pilus assembly by TEM and epithelial cell adherence over a time course of induction demonstrated that pili were expressed as early as 1 h postinduction. Analysis at different steady-state levels of transcription demonstrated that DNA transformation efficiency and adherence of MS11-C9.10 to transformed and primary epithelial cells also correlated with the level of piliation. These data show that modulation of the level of pilE transcription, without a change in pilE sequence, can alter the number of pili expressed per cell, pilus bundling, DNA, transformation competence, and epithelial cell adherence of the gonococcus.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology