A Filamentous Bacteriophage Protein Inhibits Type IV Pili To Prevent Superinfection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Amelia K. Schmidt, Alexa D. Fitzpatrick, Caleb M. Schwartzkopf, Dominick R. Faith, Laura K. Jennings, Alison Coluccio, Devin J. Hunt, Lia A. Michaels, Aviv Hargil, Qingquan Chen, Paul L. Bollyky, David W. Dorward, Jenny Wachter, Patricia A. Rosa, Karen L. Maxwell, Patrick R. Secor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen that causes infections in a variety of settings. Many P. aeruginosa isolates are infected by filamentous Pf bacteriophage integrated into the bacterial chromosome as a prophage. Pf virions can be produced without lysing P. aeruginosa. However, cell lysis can occur during superinfection, which occurs when Pf virions successfully infect a host lysogenized by a Pf prophage. Temperate phages typically encode superinfection exclusion mechanisms to prevent host lysis by virions of the same or similar species. In this study, we sought to elucidate the superinfection exclusion mechanism of Pf phage. Initially, we observed that P. aeruginosa that survive Pf superinfection are transiently resistant to Pf-induced plaquing and are deficient in twitching motility, which is mediated by type IV pili (T4P). Pf utilize T4P as a cell surface receptor, suggesting that T4P are suppressed in bacteria that survive superinfection. We tested the hypothesis that a Pf-encoded protein suppresses T4P to mediate superinfection exclusion by expressing Pf proteins in P. aeruginosa and measuring plaquing and twitching motility. We found that the Pf protein PA0721, which we termed Pf superinfection exclusion (PfsE), promoted resistance to Pf infection and suppressed twitching motility by binding the T4P protein PilC. Because T4P play key roles in biofilm formation and virulence, the ability of Pf phage to modulate T4P via PfsE has implications in the ability of P. aeruginosa to persist at sites of infection. IMPORTANCE Pf bacteriophage (phage) are filamentous viruses that infect Pseudomonas aeruginosa and enhance its virulence potential. Pf virions can lyse and kill P. aeruginosa through superinfection, which occurs when an already infected cell is infected by the same or similar phage. Here, we show that a small, highly conserved Pf phage protein (PA0721, PfsE) provides resistance to superinfection by phages that use the type IV pilus as a cell surface receptor. PfsE does this by inhibiting assembly of the type IV pilus via an interaction with PilC. As the type IV pilus plays important roles in virulence, the ability of Pf phage to modulate its assembly has implications for P. aeruginosa pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02441
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022


  • Filamentous bacteriophage
  • Pf4
  • PilC
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Superinfection exclusion
  • Twitching motility
  • Type IV pili


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