Evidence for donor strand complementation in the biogenesis of Haemophilus influenzae haemagglutinating pili

Mol Microbiol. 2000 Mar;35(6):1335-47. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2000.01816.x.


Haemophilus influenzae haemagglutinating pili are surface appendages that promote attachment to host cells and facilitate respiratory tract colonization, an essential step in the pathogenesis of disease. In contrast to other well-characterized forms of pili, H. influenzae haemagglutinating pili are two-stranded helical structures. Nevertheless, haemagglutinating pili are assembled by a pathway that involves a periplasmic chaperone and an outer membrane usher, analogous to the prototype pathway involved in the biogenesis of Escherichia coli P pili. In this study, we performed site-directed mutagenesis of the H. influenzae HifB chaperone and HifA major pilus subunit at positions homologous to sites important for chaperone-subunit interactions and subunit oligomerization in P pili. Mutations at putative subunit binding pocket residues in HifB or at the penultimate tyrosine in HifA abolished formation of HifB-HifA periplasmic complexes, whereas mutations at the -14 glycine in HifA had no effect on HifB-HifA interactions but abrogated HifA oligomerization. To define further the constraints of the interaction between HifA and HifB, we examined the interchangeability of pilus gene cluster components from H. influenzae type b strain Eagan (hifA-hifEEag) and the related H. influenzae biogroup aegyptius strain F3031 (hifA-hifEF3031). Functional pili were assembled both with HifAEag and the strain F3031 gene cluster and with HifAF3031 and the strain Eagan gene cluster, underscoring the flexibility of the H. influenzae chaperone/usher pathway in incorporating HifA subunits with significant sequence diversity. To gain additional insight into the interactive surfaces of HifA and HifB, we aligned HifA sequences from 20 different strains and then modelled the HifA structure based on the recently crystallized PapD-PapK complex. Analysis of the resulting structure revealed high levels of sequence conservation in regions predicted to interact with HifB, and maximal sequence diversity in regions potentially exposed on the surface of assembled pili. These results suggest broad applicability of structure-function relationships identified in studies of P pili, including the concepts of donor strand complementation and donor strand exchange. In addition, they provide insight into the structure of HifA and suggest a basis for antigenic variation in H. influenzae haemagglutinating pili.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Fimbriae Proteins*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Glycine
  • Haemophilus influenzae / physiology*
  • Hemagglutination Tests
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Chaperones / chemistry
  • Molecular Chaperones / genetics
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Periplasmic Proteins*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • HifA protein, Haemophilus influenzae
  • HifB protein, Haemophilus influenzae
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • PapD protein, E coli
  • PapK protein, bacteria
  • Periplasmic Proteins
  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Glycine