Fimbrial adhesins: similarities and variations in structure and biogenesis

FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 1996 Dec 1;16(2):127-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-695X.1996.tb00129.x.


Fimbriae are wiry (2 to 4 nm diam.) or rod-shaped (6 to 8 nm diam.), fibre-like structures on the surfaces of bacteria which mediate attachment to host cells. Much has been learned in recent years about the biogenesis, structure and regulation of expression of these adhesive organelles in Gram-negative bacteria. Analyses of the genetic determinants encoding the biogenesis of fimbriae has revealed that the adhesive interaction of fimbriae can be mediated by major subunits (CFA/I and CS1 fimbriae) or minor subunits (P, S, and type 1 fimbriae), with the adhesin being located either at the tip of the fimbria or along the length of the fimbrial shaft. Minor subunits can also act as adapters, anchors, initiators or elongators. Post-translational glycosylation of the type 4 pilins of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Neisseria meningitidis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been demonstrated. The structures of the PapD chaperone of Escherichia coli and of N. gonorrhoeae type 4 fimbrin have been resolved at 2.0-2.6 A. Rod-shaped fimbriae should not be thought of as being rigid inflexible structures but rather as dynamic structures which can undergo transition from a helicoidal to a fibrillar conformation to provide a degree of elasticity and plasticity to the fimbriae so that they can resist shear forces, rather like a bungee cord. At least four mechanisms have been identified in the assembly of fimbriae from fimbrin subunits, namely the chaperone-usher pathway (e.g., P-fimbriae of uropathogenic E. coli), the general secretion assembly pathway (e.g., type 4 fimbriae or N-methylphenylalanine fimbriae of P. aeruginosa, the extracellular nucleation-precipitation pathway (e.g., curli of E. coli) and the CFA/I, CS1 and CS2 fimbrial pathway.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / chemistry*
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / ultrastructure
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Glycosylation
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / chemistry
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / ultrastructure*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Microfilament Proteins*
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • plastin