1 Veterinary Clinical Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet2 Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet3 University of Minnesota4 Veterinary Clinical Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet5 Functional Genomics, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet6 University of Minnesota
Background Fimbriae are bacterial cell surface organelles involved in the pathogenesis of many bacterial species, including Gallibacterium anatis, in which a F17-like fimbriae of the chaperone-usher (CU) family was recently shown to be an important virulence factor and vaccine candidate. To reveal the distribution and variability of CU fimbriae 22 genomes of the avian host-restricted bacteria Gallibacterium spp. were investigated. Fimbrial clusters were classified using phylogeny-based and conserved domain (CD) distribution-based approaches. To characterize the fimbriae in depth evolutionary analysis and in vitro expression of the most prevalent fimbrial clusters was performed. Results Overall 48 CU fimbriae were identified in the genomes of the examined Gallibacterium isolates. All fimbriae were assigned to γ4 clade of the CU fimbriae of Gram-negative bacteria and were organized in four-gene clusters encoding a putative major fimbrial subunit, a chaperone, an usher and a fimbrial adhesin. Five fimbrial clusters (Flf-Flf4) and eight conserved domain groups were defined to accommodate the identified fimbriae. Although, the number of different fimbrial clusters in individual Gallibacterium genomes was low, there was substantial amino acid sequence variability in the major fimbrial subunit and the adhesin proteins. The distribution of CDs among fimbrial clusters, analysis of their flanking regions, and evolutionary comparison of the strains revealed that Gallibacterium fimbrial clusters likely underwent evolutionary divergence resulting in highly host adapted and antigenically variable fimbriae. In vitro, only the fimbrial subunit FlfA was expressed in most Gallibacterium strains encoding this protein. The absence or scarce expression of the two other common fimbrial subunits (Flf1A and Flf3A) indicates that their expression may require other in vitro or in vivo conditions. Conclusions This is the first approach establishing a systematic fimbria classification system within Gallibacterium spp., which indicates a species-wide distribution of γ4 CU fimbriae among a diverse collection of Gallibacterium isolates. The expression of only one out of up to three fimbriae present in the individual genomes in vitro suggests that fimbriae expression in Gallibacterium is highly regulated. This information is important for future attempts to understand the role of Gallibacterium fimbriae in pathogenesis, and may prove useful for improved control of Gallibacterium infections in chickens.