Molecular Characterization of a Streptococcus gallolyticus Genomic Island Encoding a Pilus Involved in Endocarditis

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Background. Streptococcus gallolyticus is a causative agent of infective endocarditis associated with colon cancer. Genome sequence of strain UCN34 revealed the existence of 3 pilus loci (pil1, pil2, and pil3). Pili are long filamentous structures playing a key role as adhesive organelles in many pathogens. The pil1 locus encodes 2 LPXTG proteins (Gallo2178 and Gallo2179) and 1 sortase C (Gallo2177). Gallo2179 displaying a functional collagen-binding domain was referred to as the adhesin, whereas Gallo2178 was designated as the major pilin.

Methods. S. gallolyticus UCN34, Pil1+ and Pil1−, expressing various levels of pil1, and recombinant Lactococcus lactis strains, constitutively expressing pil1, were studied. Polyclonal antibodies raised against the putative pilin subunits Gallo2178 and Gallo2179 were used in immunoblotting and immunogold electron microscopy. The role of pil1 was tested in a rat model of endocarditis.

Results. We showed that the pil1 locus (gallo2179-78-77) forms an operon differentially expressed among S. gallolyticus strains. Short pilus appendages were identified both on the surface of S. gallolyticus UCN34 and recombinant L. lactis-expressing pil1. We demonstrated that Pil1 pilus is involved in binding to collagen, biofilm formation, and virulence in experimental endocarditis.

Conclusions. This study identifies Pil1 as the first virulence factor characterized in S. gallolyticus.

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