Streptococcal adhesion and colonization

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 1997;8(2):175-200. doi: 10.1177/10454411970080020601.


Streptococci express arrays of adhesins on their cell surfaces that facilitate adherence to substrates present in their natural environment within the mammalian host. A consequence of such promiscuous binding ability is that streptococcal cells may adhere simultaneously to a spectrum of substrates, including salivary glycoproteins, extracellular matrix and serum components, host cells, and other microbial cells. The multiplicity of streptococcal adherence interactions accounts, at least in part, for their success in colonizing the oral and epithelial surfaces of humans. Adhesion facilitates colonization and may be a precursor to tissue invasion and immune modulation, events that presage the development of disease. Many of the streptococcal adhesins and virulence-related factors are cell-wall-associated proteins containing repeated sequence blocks of amino acids. Linear sequences, both within the blocks and within non-repetitive regions of the proteins, have been implicated in substrate binding. Sequences and functions of these proteins among the streptococci have become assorted through gene duplication and horizontal transfer between bacterial populations. Several adhesins identified and characterized through in vitro binding assays have been analyzed for in vivo expression and function by means of animal models used for colonization and virulence. Information on the molecular structure of adhesins as related to their in vivo function will allow for the rational design of novel acellular vaccines, recombinant antibodies, and adhesion agonists for the future control or prevention of streptococcal colonization and streptococcal diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / physiology
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Surface / physiology
  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Base Sequence
  • Blood Proteins / physiology
  • Cell Wall Skeleton / physiology
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epithelium / microbiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / microbiology
  • Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Mouth Mucosa / microbiology
  • Protein Binding
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / physiology
  • Streptococcal Infections
  • Streptococcus / growth & development
  • Streptococcus / pathogenicity
  • Streptococcus / physiology*
  • Virulence


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antigens, Surface
  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Blood Proteins
  • Cell Wall Skeleton
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides