Characterization of a Bordetella pertussis fimbrial gene cluster which is located directly downstream of the filamentous haemagglutinin gene

R J Willems, H G van der Heide, F R Mooi

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The biosynthesis of fimbriae is a complex process requiring multiple genes which are generally found clustered on the chromosome. In Bordetella pertussis, only major fimbrial subunit genes have been identified, and no evidence has yet been found that they are located in a fimbrial gene cluster. To locate additional genes involved in the biosynthesis of B. pertussis fimbriae, we used TnphoA mutagenesis. A PhoA+ mutant (designated B176) was isolated which was affected in the production of both serotype 2 and 3 fimbriae. Cloning and sequencing of the DNA region harbouring the transposon insertion revealed the presence of at least three additional fimbrial genes, designated fimB, fimC and fimD. The transposon was found to be located in fimD. Analysis of PhoA activity indicated that the fimbrial gene cluster was positively regulated by the bvg locus. A potential binding site for BvgA was observed upstream of fimB. FimB showed homology with the so-called chaperone-like fimbrial proteins, while FimC was homologous with a class of fimbrial proteins located in the outer membrane and presumed to be involved in transport and anchorage of fimbrial subunits. An insertion mutation in fimB abolished the expression of fimbrial subunits, implicating this gene in the biosynthesis of both serotype 2 and 3 fimbriae. Upstream of fimB a pseudogene (fimA) was observed which showed homology with the three major fimbrial subunit genes, fim2, fim3 and fimX. The construction of a phylogenetic tree suggested that fimA may be the primordial major fimbrial subunit gene from which the other three were derived by gene duplication. Interestingly, the fimbrial gene cluster was found to be located directly downstream from the gene coding for the filamentous haemagglutinin, an important B. pertussis adhesin, possibly suggesting co-operation between the two loci in the pathogenesis of pertussis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2661-71
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1992


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Base Sequence
  • Bordetella pertussis
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Hemagglutinins
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Pseudogenes
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Virulence Factors, Bordetella
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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