Kingella kingae expresses type IV pili that mediate adherence to respiratory epithelial and synovial cells

Thomas E. Kehl-Fie, Sara E. Miller, Joseph W. St. Geme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Kingella kingae is a gram-negative bacterium that colonizes the respiratory tract and is a common cause of septic arthritis and osteomyelitis. Despite the increasing frequency of K. kingae disease, little is known about the mechanism by which this organism adheres to respiratory epithelium and seeds joints and bones. Previous work showed that K. kingae expresses long surface fibers that vary in surface density. In the current study, we found that these fibers are type IV pili and are necessary for efficient adherence to respiratory epithelial and synovial cells and that the number of pili expressed by the bacterium correlates with the level of adherence to synovial cells but not with the level of adherence to respiratory cells. In addition, we established that the major pilin subunit is encoded by a pilA homolog in a conserved region of the chromosome that also contains a second pilin gene and a type IV pilus accessory gene, both of which are dispensable for pilus assembly and pilus-mediated adherence. Upon examination of the K. kingae genome, we identified two genes in physically separate locations on the chromosome that encode homologs of the Neisseria PilC proteins and that have only a low level homology to each other. Examination of mutant strains revealed that both of the K. kingae PilC homologs are essential for a wild-type level of adherence to both respiratory epithelial and synovial cells. Taken together, these results demonstrate that type IV pili and the two PilC homologs play important roles in mediating K. kingae adherence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7157-7163
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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