Molecular strategies for fimbrial expression and assembly

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2001;12(2):101-15. doi: 10.1177/10454411010120020101.


Fimbriae or pili are long, filamentous, multimeric macromolecules found on the bacterial cell surface. Bacteria express a diverse array of fimbriae or pili that are involved in bacterial adherence and invasion. Fimbriae can be categorized based on their modes of expression and assembly. Type I fimbriae and P pili are distributed peritrichously and translocated to the cell surface by a chaperone/usher pathway. Type 4 pili are located at the pole of the cell and assembled via the type II secretion system. Curli fimbriae are coiled surface structures assembled by an extracellular nucleation/precipitation pathway. Fimbriae of oral gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria have not been well-studied as compared with the fimbriae of enteric pathogens. Oral pathogens, such as Eikenella corrodens, Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, and Porphyromonas gingivalis, possess fimbriae that have been implicated in bacterial adhesion and invasion. These fimbriae are potential virulence factors in oral infectious processes. A. actinomycetemcomitans and E. corrodens have Type 4-like fimbriae, whereas P. gingivalis displays a unique type of fimbriae. To date, fimbriae of the oral primary colonizers, Actinomyces naeslundii and Streptococcus parasanguis, represent the only fimbriae characterized for any gram-positive bacteria. The putative major fimbrial subunits, FimA and FimP of A. naeslundii and Fap1 of S. parasanguis, contain a signal sequence and cell-wall-sorting signal. The presence of extensive dipeptide repeats in Fap1 makes it unique among fimbrial molecules. Based on experimental data, a nucleation/precipitation pathway is proposed for fimbrial biogenesis of both S. parasanguis and A. naeslundii, although we cannot rule out an alternative covalent linkage model. The model systems described in this review served as a framework for hypotheses for how the known molecular factors of fimbriae on oral bacteria may be expressed and assembled.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actinomyces / ultrastructure
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / ultrastructure
  • Bacterial Adhesion / genetics
  • Eikenella corrodens / ultrastructure
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis / ultrastructure
  • Signal Transduction
  • Streptococcus / ultrastructure