European Biophysics Journal

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 561–570 | Cite as

Contour and persistence length of Corynebacterium diphtheriae pili by atomic force microscopy

  • Johannes Rheinlaender
  • Anna Gräbner
  • Lisa Ott
  • Andreas Burkovski
  • Tilman E. Schäffer
Original Paper


Many bacteria are characterized by nanoscale ultrastructures, for example S-layers, flagella, fimbriae, or pili. The last two are especially important for attachment to different abiotic and biotic surfaces and for host–pathogen interactions. In this study, we investigated the geometric and elastic properties of pili of different Corynebacterium diphtheriae strains by atomic force microscopy (AFM). We performed quantitative contour-length analysis of bacterial pili and found that the visible contour length of the pili can be described by a log-normal distribution. Our data revealed significant strain-specific variations in the mean visible contour length of the pili, ranging from 260 to 1,590 nm. To estimate their full contour length, which is not directly accessible from the AFM images, we developed a simple correction model. Using this model, we determined the mean full contour length as 510–2,060 nm. To obtain the persistence length we used two different methods of analysis, one based on the end-to-end distance of the pili and one based on the bending angles of short segments. In comparison, the bending angle analysis proved to be more precise and resulted in persistence lengths in the narrow range of 220–280 nm, with no significant strain-specific variations. This is small compared with some other bacterial polymers, for example type IV pili, F-pili, or flagella.


Bacteria AFM Contour length Persistence length Stiffness 

Supplementary material

249_2012_818_MOESM1_ESM.doc (480 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 480 kb)


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Copyright information

© European Biophysical Societies' Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johannes Rheinlaender
    • 1
  • Anna Gräbner
    • 1
  • Lisa Ott
    • 2
  • Andreas Burkovski
    • 2
  • Tilman E. Schäffer
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Applied PhysicsUniversity of Erlangen-NurembergErlangenGermany
  2. 2.Chair for MicrobiologyUniversity of Erlangen-NurembergErlangenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Applied PhysicsUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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