Global Regulatory Pathways Converge To Control Expression of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type IV Pili

mBio. 2022 Feb 22;13(1):e0369621. doi: 10.1128/mbio.03696-21. Epub 2022 Jan 25.


The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa relies upon type IV pili (Tfp) for host colonization and virulence. Tfp are retractile surface appendages that promote adherence to host tissue and mediate twitching motility, a form of surface-associated translocation. Tfp are composed of a major structural pilin protein (PilA), several less abundant, fiber-associated pilin-like proteins (FimU, PilV, PilW, PilX, and PilE), and a pilus-associated tip adhesin and surface sensor (PilY1). Several proteins critical for Tfp biogenesis and surface sensing are encoded by the fimU-pilVWXY1Y2E operon. Tfp biogenesis is regulated by the global transcription factor Vfr and its allosteric effector, cyclic AMP (cAMP). Our investigation into the basis for reduced Tfp production in cAMP/vfr mutants revealed a defect in the expression of the fimU operon. We found that cAMP/Vfr activation of the fimU operon occurs via direct binding of Vfr to a specific fimU promoter sequence. We also refined the role of the AlgZ/AlgR two-component system in fimU regulation by demonstrating that phosphorylation of the response regulator AlgR is required for maximal binding to the fimU promoter region in vitro. Vfr also regulates expression of the algZR operon, revealing an indirect regulatory loop affecting fimU operon transcription. Overall, these results demonstrate that two linked but independent regulatory systems couple the expression of Tfp biogenesis and surface sensing genes and highlight the regulatory complexity governing expression of P. aeruginosa virulence factors. IMPORTANCE Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen responsible for a wide range of infections. An extensive repertoire of virulence factors aid in P. aeruginosa pathogenesis. Type IV pili (Tfp) play a critical role in host colonization and infection by promoting adherence to host tissue, facilitating twitching motility and mediating surface-associated behaviors. The fimU operon encodes several pilus-associated proteins that are essential for proper Tfp function and surface sensing. In this study, we report that linked but independent regulatory systems dictate Tfp biogenesis. We also demonstrated the importance of different phosphorylation states of the AlgZ/AlgR two-component system and its role in Tfp biogenesis. Overall, this study furthers our understanding of the complex regulatory mechanisms that govern the production of a critical and multifaceted virulence factor.

Keywords: AlgR; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Vfr; cAMP; type IV pili.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Fimbriae Proteins* / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa* / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Virulence Factors