Francisella tularensis causes the disease tularaermia. Type IV pili (Tfp) genes are present in the genomes of all F. tularensis subspecies. We show that the wild-type F. tularensis subsp. novicida expresses pilus fibres on its surface, and mutations in the Tfp genes pilF and pilT disrupt pilus biogenesis. Mutations in other Tfp genes (pilO and pilG) do not eliminate pilus expression. A mutation in pilE4 eliminates pilus expression, whereas mutations in the other pilin subunits pilE1-3 and pilE5 do not, suggesting that pilE4 is the major pilus structural subunit. The virulence regulator MgIA is required for pilus expression, and it regulates the transcription of a putative Tfp glycosylation gene (FTN0431). However, MgIA does not regulate transcription of pilF, pilT or pilE4, and a strain lacking FTN0431 still expresses pili; thus, it is unclear how MgIA regulates pilus expression. Only pilF was also required for protein secretion, while pilE4 and pilT were not, indicating that there is very little overlap of the protein secretion/Tfp functions of the pil genes. The protein secretion component pilE1 was more important for in vitro intramacrophage growth and mouse virulence than the Tfp component pilE4. Our results provide the first genetic characterization of the novel Tfp system of F. tularensis.
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