Evidence That Surface Fibrils Expressed by Haemophilus Influenzae Type B Promote Attachment to Human Epithelial Cells

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Jan;15(1):77-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.tb02222.x.


Haemophilus influenzae type b is a Gram-negative bacillus that initiates infection by colonizing the upper respiratory tract. Previous studies have established that H. influenzae haemagglutinating pili possess adhesive properties and influence the process of colonization. Additional studies suggest the presence of a second H. influenzae adhesin distinct from haemagglutinating pili. In the present study, we examined a non-piliated H. influenzae type b strain by transmission electron microscopy and visualized occasional short, thin, surface fibrils. Subsequently, we isolated a spontaneous mutant that lacked surface fibrils and was deficient in adherence to cultured human epithelial cells. Using a cloning strategy that exploited this mutant, we isolated a fragment of DNA that promotes in vitro adherence to human epithelial cells when expressed in laboratory strains of Escherichia coli. Mutagenesis of this fragment in a series of H. influenzae type b strains resulted in loss of expression of surface fibrils and a marked decrease in attachment. Furthermore, restoration of surface fibril expression was associated with reacquisition of wild-type levels of adherence. Our results are consistent with the conclusion that H. influenzae type b surface fibrils have adhesive capacity. We speculate that these organelles facilitate colonization of the human respiratory tract.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / analysis*
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / genetics
  • Bacterial Adhesion* / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / ultrastructure*
  • Gene Expression
  • Haemophilus influenzae / genetics*
  • Haemophilus influenzae / pathogenicity
  • Haemophilus influenzae / ultrastructure
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Mutagenesis
  • Mutation


  • Adhesins, Bacterial