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PLOS ONE  2012 

Mutations in the Gene Encoding the Ancillary Pilin Subunit of the Streptococcus suis srtF Cluster Result in Pili Formed by the Major Subunit Only

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008426

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Pili have been shown to contribute to the virulence of different Gram-positive pathogenic species. Among other critical steps of bacterial pathogenesis, these structures participate in adherence to host cells, colonization and systemic virulence. Recently, the presence of at least four discrete gene clusters encoding putative pili has been revealed in the major swine pathogen and emerging zoonotic agent Streptococcus suis. However, pili production by this species has not yet been demonstrated. In this study, we investigated the functionality of one of these pili clusters, known as the srtF pilus cluster, by the construction of mutant strains for each of the four genes of the cluster as well as by the generation of antibodies against the putative pilin subunits. Results revealed that the S. suis serotype 2 strain P1/7, as well as several other highly virulent invasive S. suis serotype 2 isolates express pili from this cluster. However, in most cases tested, and as a result of nonsense mutations at the 5′ end of the gene encoding the minor pilin subunit (a putative adhesin), pili were formed by the major pilin subunit only. We then evaluated the role these pili play in S. suis virulence. Abolishment of the expression of srtF cluster-encoded pili did not result in impaired interactions of S. suis with porcine brain microvascular endothelial cells. Furthermore, non-piliated mutants were as virulent as the wild type strain when evaluated in a murine model of S. suis sepsis. Our results show that srtF cluster-encoded, S. suis pili are atypical compared to other Gram-positive pili. In addition, since the highly virulent strains under investigation are unlikely to produce other pili, our results suggest that pili might be dispensable for critical steps of the S. suis pathogenesis of infection.


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