Sequence Analyses of Type IV Pili from Vibrio cholerae, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and Vibrio vulnificus
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- Aagesen, A.M. & Häse, C.C. Microb Ecol (2012) 64: 509. doi:10.1007/s00248-012-0021-2
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Bacterial surface structures called pili have been studied extensively for their role as possible colonization factors. Most sequenced Vibrio genomes predict a variety of pili genes in these organisms, including several types of type IV pili. In particular, the mannose-sensitive hemagglutinin (MSHA) and the PilA pili, also known as the chitin-regulated pilus (ChiRP), are type IVa pili commonly found in Vibrio genomes and have been shown to play a role in the colonization of Vibrio species in the environment and/or host tissue. Here, we report sequence comparisons of two type IVa pilin subunit genes, mshA and pilA, and their corresponding amino acid sequences, for several strains from the three main human pathogenic Vibrio species, V. cholerae, V. parahaemolyticus, and V. vulnificus. We identified specific groupings of these two genes in V. cholerae, whereas V. parahaemolyticus and V. vulnificus strains had no apparent allelic clusters, and these genes were strikingly divergent. These results were compared with other genes from the MSHA and PilA operons as well as another Vibrio pili from the type IVb group, the toxin co-regulated pilus (TCP) from V. cholerae. Our data suggest that a selective pressure exists to cause these strains to vary their MSHA and PilA pilin subunits. Interestingly, V. cholerae strains possessing TCP have the same allele for both mshA and pilA. In contrast, V. cholerae isolates without TCP have polymorphisms in their mshA and pilA sequences similar to what was observed for both V. parahaemolyticus and V. vulnificus. This data suggests a possible linkage between host interactions and maintaining a highly conserved type IV pili sequence in V. cholerae. Although the mechanism underlying this intriguing diversity has yet to be elucidated, our analyses are an important first step towards gaining insights into the various aspects of Vibrio ecology.