Neisseria cinerea isolates can adhere to human epithelial cells by type IV pilus-independent mechanisms.
Wörmann ME., Horien CL., Johnson E., Liu G., Aho E., Tang CM., Exley RM.
In pathogenic Neisseria species the type IV pili (Tfp) are of primary importance in host-pathogen interactions. Tfp mediate initial bacterial attachment to cell surfaces and formation of microcolonies via pilus-pilus interactions. Based on genome analysis, many non-pathogenic Neisseria species are predicted to express Tfp, but aside from studies on Neisseria elongata, relatively little is known about the formation and function of pili in these organisms. Here, we have analysed pilin expression and the role of Tfp in Neisseria cinerea. This non-pathogenic species shares a close taxonomic relationship to the pathogen Neisseria meningitidis and also colonizes the human oropharyngeal cavity. Through analysis of non-pathogenic Neisseria genomes we identified two genes with homology to pilE, which encodes the major pilin of N. meningitidis. We show which of the two genes is required for Tfp expression in N. cinerea and that Tfp in this species are required for DNA competence, similar to other Neisseria. However, in contrast to the meningococcus, deletion of the pilin gene did not impact the association of N. cinerea to human epithelial cells, demonstrating that N. cinerea isolates can adhere to human epithelial cells by Tfp-independent mechanisms.