The Role of the Cyanobacterial Type IV Pilus Machinery in Finding and Maintaining a Favourable Environment

Life (Basel). 2020 Oct 23;10(11):252. doi: 10.3390/life10110252.


Type IV pili (T4P) are proteinaceous filaments found on the cell surface of many prokaryotic organisms and convey twitching motility through their extension/retraction cycles, moving cells across surfaces. In cyanobacteria, twitching motility is the sole mode of motility properly characterised to date and is the means by which cells perform phototaxis, the movement towards and away from directional light sources. The wavelength and intensity of the light source determine the direction of movement and, sometimes in concert with nutrient conditions, act as signals for some cyanobacteria to form mucoid multicellular assemblages. Formation of such aggregates or flocs represents an acclimation strategy to unfavourable environmental conditions and stresses, such as harmful light conditions or predation. T4P are also involved in natural transformation by exogenous DNA, secretion processes, and in cellular adaptation and survival strategies, further cementing the role of cell surface appendages. In this way, cyanobacteria are finely tuned by external stimuli to either escape unfavourable environmental conditions via phototaxis, exchange genetic material, and to modify their surroundings to fit their needs by forming multicellular assemblies.

Keywords: Synechocystis; Type IV pili; competence; cyanobacteria; flocculation; phototaxis.

Publication types

  • Review