The type-4 pilus is the major virulence-associated adhesin of Pseudomonas aeruginosa--a review

Gene. 1997 Jun 11;192(1):99-108. doi: 10.1016/s0378-1119(97)00116-9.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa) produces several surface-associated adherence factors or adhesins which promote attachment to epithelial cells and contribute to the virulence of this pathogen. Among them, the type-4 pilus accounts for about 90% of the adherence capability of Pa to human lung pneumocyte A549 cells. Furthermore, it is responsible for more than 90% of the virulence in AB.Y/SnJ mice. Pa type-4 pili display a tip-base differentiation with the adherence function located at the tip of the pilus. All Pa pili prototypes characterized so far contain an intrachain disulfide loop (DSL) of 12 to 17 semi-conserved amino acid residues at the C-terminus of pilin. In Pa, this DSL comprises the epithelial cell-binding domain. Despite little sequence homology, DSL-containing peptides of different pilin prototypes seemingly reveal striking structural similarities. Two beta-turns within the loop and the disulfide bridge impose significant structural rigidity on the DSL pilin peptide, suggesting a conformationally conserved binding domain. Insertions of C-terminal pilin peptides with disrupted DSL displayed on the surface of bacterial S-layer mediate the same receptor binding characteristics as pili, indicating that a DSL is not essential in maintaining the functionality of the binding domain. Pa pili bind specifically to the carbohydrate moiety of the glycosphingolipids (GSL) asialo-G(M1) and asialo-G(M2) and, to a much weaker extent, to lactosyl ceramide and ceramide trihexoside. The disaccharide sequence GalNAc beta(1-4)Gal, common in both asialo-G(M1) and asialo-G(M2), likely represents the minimal structural receptor motif recognized by the pili. Pa pili also bind to surface-localized proteins of human epithelial cells and other cell types, suggesting that non-sialylated GSL and (glyco)proteins function as receptors of pili. In addition to the major pilus adhesin, exoenzyme S and, as recent studies indicate, flagella, are further protein adhesins of Pa with GSL receptor binding specificities similar to those of pili.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / chemistry*
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Epithelium / microbiology
  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / chemistry*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Disulfides
  • Fimbriae Proteins