Shear force enhances adhesion of Pseudomonas aeruginosa by counteracting pilus-driven surface departure

Jessica Jae S. Palalay, Ahmet N. Simsek, Jessie L. Reed, Matthias D. Koch, Benedikt Sabass, Joseph E. Sanfilippo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fluid flow is thought to prevent bacterial adhesion, but some bacteria use adhesins with catch bond properties to enhance adhesion under high shear forces. However, many studies on bacterial adhesion either neglect the influence of shear force or use shear forces that are not typically found in natural systems. In this study, we use microfluidics and single-cell imaging to examine how the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa interacts with surfaces when exposed to shear forces typically found in the human body (0.1 pN to 10 pN). Through cell tracking, we demonstrate that the angle between the cell and the surface predicts if a cell will depart the surface. We discover that at lower shear forces, type IV pilus retraction tilts cells away from the surface, promoting surface departure. Conversely, we show that higher shear forces counterintuitively enhance adhesion by counteracting type IV pilus retraction-dependent cell tilting. Thus, our results reveal that P. aeruginosa exhibits behavior reminiscent of a catch bond, without having a specific adhesin that is enhanced by force. Instead, P. aeruginosa couples type IV pilus dynamics and cell geometry to tune adhesion to its mechanical environment, which likely provides a benefit in dynamic host environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2307718120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 3 2023


  • microfluidics
  • type IV pili
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • adhesion
  • shear force

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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