Prevalence of Type IV Pili-Mediated Twitching Motility in Streptococcus sanguinis Strains and Its Impact on Biofilm Formation and Host Adherence

Yi Ywan M. Chen*, Hsing Yi Wang, Chia Hua Wu, Yu Juan Lin, Cheng Hsun Chiu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

3 Scopus citations


Type IV pili (Tfp) are known to mediate several biological activities, including surface-dependent twitching motility. Although a pil gene cluster for Tfp biosynthesis is found in all sequenced Streptococcus sanguinis strains, Tfp-mediated twitching motility is less commonly detected. Upon examining 81 clinical strains, 39 strains generated twitching zones on blood agar plates (BAP), while 27 strains displayed twitching on Todd-Hewitt (TH) agar. Although BAP appears to be more suitable for the development of twitching zones, 5 strains exhibited twitching motility only on TH agar, indicating that twitching motility is not only strain specific but also sensitive to growth media. Furthermore, different twitching phenotypes were observed in strains expressing comparable levels of pilT, encoding the retraction ATPase, suggesting that the twitching phenotype on agar plates is regulated by multiple factors. By using a PilT-null and a pilin protein-null derivative (CHW02) of twitching-active S. sanguinis CGMH010, we found that Tfp retraction was essential for biofilm stability. Further, biofilm growth was amplified in CHW02 in the absence of shearing force, indicating that S. sanguinis may utilize other ligands for biofilm formation in the absence of Tfp. Similar to SK36, Tfp from CGMH010 were required for colonization of host cells, but PilT only marginally affected adherence and only in the twitching-active strain. Taken together, the results suggest that Tfp participates in host cell adherence and that Tfp retraction facilitates biofilm stability. IMPORTANCE Although the gene clusters encoding Tfp are commonly present in Streptococcus sanguinis, not all strains express surface-dependent twitching motility on agar surfaces. Regardless of whether the Tfp could drive motility, Tfp can serve as a ligand for the colonization of host cells. Though many S. sanguinis strains lack twitching activity, motility can enhance biofilm stability in a twitching-active strain; thus, perhaps motility provides little or no advantage to the survival of bacteria within dental plaque. Rather, Tfp retraction could provide additional advantages for the bacteria to establish infections outside the oral cavity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 09 2022

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  • Streptococcus sanguinis
  • adherence
  • biofilm
  • twitching motility
  • type IV pilus


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