Examination of Type IV Pilus Expression and Pilus-Associated Phenotypes in Kingella kingae Clinical Isolates

Thomas E. Kehl-Fie, Eric A. Porsch, Pablo Yagupsky, Elizabeth A. Grass, Caroline Obert, Daniel K. Benjamin, Joseph W. St Geme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Kingella kingae is a gram-negative bacterium that is being recognized increasingly as a cause of septic arthritis and osteomyelitis in young children. Previous work established that K. kingae expresses type IV pili that mediate adherence to respiratory epithelial and synovial cells. PilA1 is the major pilus subunit in K. kingae type IV pili and is essential for pilus assembly. To develop a better understanding of the role of K. kingae type IV pili during colonization and invasive disease, we examined a collection of clinical isolates for pilus expression and in vitro adherence. In addition, in a subset of isolates we performed nucleotide sequencing to assess the level of conservation of PilA1. The majority of respiratory and nonendocarditis blood isolates were piliated, while the majority of joint fluid, bone, and endocarditis blood isolates were nonpiliated. The piliated isolates formed either spreading/corroding or nonspreading/noncorroding colonies and were uniformly adherent, while the nonpiliated isolates formed domed colonies and were nonadherent. PilA1 sequence varied significantly from strain to strain, resulting in substantial variability in antibody reactivity. These results suggest that type IV pili may confer a selective advantage on K. kingae early in infection and a selective disadvantage on K. kingae at later stages in the pathogenic process. We speculate that PilA1 is immunogenic during natural infection and undergoes antigenic variation to escape the immune response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1692-1699
Number of pages8
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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