Type IV Pili-Dependent Gliding Motility in the Gram-positive Pathogen Clostridium Perfringens and Other Clostridia

Mol Microbiol. 2006 Nov;62(3):680-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2006.05414.x. Epub 2006 Sep 25.


Bacteria can swim in liquid media by flagellar rotation and can move on surfaces via gliding or twitching motility. One type of gliding motility involves the extension, attachment and retraction of type IV pili (TFP), which pull the bacterium towards the site of attachment. TFP-dependent gliding motility has been seen in many Gram-negative bacteria but not in Gram-positive bacteria. Recently, the genome sequences of three strains of Clostridium perfringens have been completed and we identified gene products involved in producing TFP in each strain. Here we show that C. perfringens produces TFP and moves with an unusual form of gliding motility involving groups of densely packed cells moving away from the edge of a colony in curvilinear flares. Mutations introduced into the pilT and pilC genes of C. perfringens abolished motility and surface localization of TFP. Genes encoding TFP are also found in the genomes of all nine Clostridium species sequenced thus far and we demonstrated that Clostridium beijerinckii can move via gliding motility. It has recently been proposed that the Clostridia are the oldest Eubacterial class and the ubiquity of TFP in this class suggests that a Clostridia-like ancestor possessed TFP, which evolved into the forms seen in many Gram-negative species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / genetics
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Clostridium / cytology
  • Clostridium / pathogenicity
  • Clostridium / physiology*
  • Clostridium perfringens / cytology
  • Clostridium perfringens / pathogenicity*
  • Clostridium perfringens / physiology
  • Fimbriae Proteins / chemistry
  • Fimbriae Proteins / genetics
  • Fimbriae Proteins / metabolism
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Gene Order
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / genetics
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism
  • Multigene Family
  • Mutation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Structural Homology, Protein


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • pilC protein, Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases