Genetic characterization of a new type IV-A pilus gene cluster found in both classical and El Tor biotypes of Vibrio cholerae.
The Vibrio cholerae genome contains a 5.4-kb pil gene cluster that resembles the Aeromonas hydrophila tap gene cluster and other type IV-A pilus assembly operons. The region consists of five complete open reading frames designated pilABCD and yacE, based on the nomenclature of related genes from Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli K-12. This cluster is present in both classical and El Tor biotypes, and the pilA and pilD genes are 100% conserved. The pilA gene encodes a putative type IV pilus subunit. However, deletion of pilA had no effect on either colonization of infant mice or adherence to HEp-2 cells, demonstrating that pilA does not encode the primary subunit of a pilus essential for these processes. The pilD gene product is similar to other type IV prepilin peptidases, proteins that process type IV signal sequences. Mutational analysis of the pilD gene showed that pilD is essential for secretion of cholera toxin and hemagglutinin-protease, mannose-sensitive hemagglutination (MSHA), production of toxin-coregulated pili, and colonization of infant mice. Defects in these functions are likely due to the lack of processing of N termini of four Eps secretion proteins, four proteins of the MSHA cluster, and TcpB, all of which contain type IV-A leader sequences. Some pilD mutants also showed reduced adherence to HEp-2 cells, but this defect could not be complemented in trans, indicating that the defect may not be directly due to a loss of pilD. Taken together, these data demonstrate the effectiveness of the V. cholerae genome project for rapid identification and characterization of potential virulence factors.