Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 31609039
Link to DOI – 10.15252/embj.2019102145
EMBO J 2019 11; 38(22): e102145
Type IV pili (TFP) are multifunctional micrometer-long filaments expressed at the surface of many prokaryotes. In Neisseria meningitidis, TFP are crucial for virulence. Indeed, these homopolymers of the major pilin PilE mediate interbacterial aggregation and adhesion to host cells. However, the mechanisms behind these functions remain unclear. Here, we simultaneously determined regions of PilE involved in pilus display, auto-aggregation, and adhesion by using deep mutational scanning and started mining this extensive functional map. For auto-aggregation, pili must reach a minimum length to allow pilus-pilus interactions through an electropositive cluster of residues centered around Lys140. For adhesion, results point to a key role for the tip of the pilus. Accordingly, purified pili interacting with host cells initially bind via their tip-located major pilin and then along their length. Overall, these results identify functional domains of PilE and support a direct role of the major pilin in TFP-dependent aggregation and adhesion.