The Widespread Colonization Island of Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans

Nat Genet. 2003 Jun;34(2):193-8. doi: 10.1038/ng1154.


Genomic islands, such as pathogenicity islands, contribute to the evolution and diversification of microbial life. Here we report on the Widespread Colonization Island, which encompasses the tad (tight adherence) locus for colonization of surfaces and biofilm formation by the human pathogen Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans. At least 12 of the 14 genes at the tad locus are required for tenacious biofilm formation and synthesis of bundled Flp pili (fibrils) that mediate adherence. The pilin subunit, Flp1, remains inside the cell in tad-locus mutants, indicating that these genes encode a secretion system for export and assembly of fibrils. We found tad-related regions in a wide variety of Bacterial and Archaeal species, and their sequence characteristics indicate possible horizontal transfer. To test the hypothesis of horizontal transfer, we compared the phylogeny of the tad locus to a robust organismal phylogeny using statistical tests of congruence and tree reconciliation techniques. Our analysis strongly supports a complex history of gene shuffling by recombination and multiple horizontal transfers, duplications and losses. We present evidence for a specific horizontal transfer event leading to the establishment of this region as a determinant of disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / genetics*
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / isolation & purification
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / pathogenicity
  • Bacterial Adhesion / genetics
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny