Attachment to and biofilm formation on abiotic surfaces by Acinetobacter baumannii: involvement of a novel chaperone-usher pili assembly system

Microbiology. 2003 Dec;149(Pt 12):3473-3484. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.26541-0.


Acinetobacter baumannii causes severe infections in compromised patients, survives on abiotic surfaces in hospital environments and colonizes different medical devices. In this study the analysis of the processes involved in surface attachment and biofilm formation by the prototype strain 19606 was initiated. This strain attaches to and forms biofilm structures on plastic and glass surfaces, particularly at the liquid-air interface of cultures incubated stagnantly. The cell aggregates, which contain cell stacks separated by water channels, formed under different culture conditions and were significantly enhanced under iron limitation. Electron and fluorescence microscopy showed that pili and exopolysaccharides are part of the cell aggregates formed by this strain. Electron microscopy of two insertion derivatives deficient in attachment and biofilm formation revealed the disappearance of pili-like structures and DNA sequencing analysis showed that the transposon insertions interrupted genes with the highest similarity to hypothetical genes found in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas putida and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Although the products of these genes, which have been named csuC and csuE, have no known functions, they are located within a polycistronic operon that includes four other genes, two of which encode proteins related to chaperones and ushers involved in pili assembly in other bacteria. Introduction of a copy of the csuE parental gene restored the adherence phenotype and the presence of pili on the cell surface of the csuE mutant, but not that of the csuC derivative. These results demonstrate that the expression of a chaperone-usher secretion system, some of whose components appear to be acquired from unrelated sources, is required for pili formation and the concomitant attachment to plastic surfaces and the ensuing formation of biofilms by A. baumannii cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter baumannii / genetics
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / physiology*
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / ultrastructure
  • Bacterial Adhesion / genetics
  • Bacterial Adhesion / physiology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Base Sequence
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Molecular Chaperones / genetics
  • Molecular Chaperones / physiology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Open Reading Frames


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Molecular Chaperones

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY241696