A cluster of fourteen genes from enteropathogenic Escherichia coli is sufficient for the biogenesis of a type IV pilus

Mol Microbiol. 1996 Apr;20(2):325-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1996.tb02620.x.


Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) adhere to epithelial cells in microcolonies, a pattern termed localized adherence (LA). LA is dependent upon the presence of 50-70 MDa plasmids, termed EPEC adherence factor (EAF) plasmids. Expression of an EAF plasmid-encoded type IV fimbria, the bundle-forming pilus (BFP), is associated with the LA phenotype. TnphoA insertions in bfpA, the gene encoding the major structural subunit of the BFP, abolish LA. While bfpA::TnphoA mutants cannot be complemented for LA by plasmids carrying the bfpA gene alone in trans, this work shows that they can be complemented by plasmids carrying the bfpA gene, as well as approximately 10 kb of downstream sequence, suggesting that such mutations have polar effects on downstream genes. The identification and characterization of a cluster of 13 genes immediately downstream of bfpA are described. The introduction into a laboratory Escherichia coli strain of a plasmid containing these 14 bfp gene cluster genes, along with pJPN14, a plasmid containing another fragment derived from the EAF plasmid, confers LA ability and BFP biogenesis. However, when a mutation is introduced into the last gene of the bfp cluster, neither LA nor BFP biogenesis is conferred. This work also provides evidence to show that the fragment cloned in pJPN14 encodes a factor(s) which results in increased levels of the pilin protein. Finally, it is shown that expression of the 14 genes in the bfp cluster from an IPTG-inducible promoter, in the absence of pJPN14, is sufficient to reconstitute BFP biogenesis in a laboratory E. coli strain, but is insufficient for LA. This is the first report demonstrating the reconstitution of a type IV pilus in a laboratory E. coli strain with a defined set of genes. The BFP system should prove to be a useful model for studying the molecular mechanisms of type IV pilus biogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Bacteriophage T7 / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / ultrastructure
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family*
  • Mutation
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • DNA, Bacterial

Associated data

  • GENBANK/Z68186