Bhupender Singh, Narges Mortezaei, Stephen J. Savarino, Bernt Eric Uhlin, Esther Bullitt and Magnus Andersson
As adhesion fimbriae are a major virulence factor for many pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria, they are also potential targets for antibodies. Fimbriae are commonly required for initiating the colonization that leads to disease, and their success as adhesion organelles lies in their ability to both initiate and sustain bacterial attachment to epithelial cells. The ability of fimbriae to unwind and rewind their helical filaments presumably reduces their detachment from tissue surfaces with the shear forces that accompany significant fluid flow. Therefore, the disruption of functional fimbriae by inhibiting this resilience should have high potential for use as a vaccine to prevent disease. In this study, we show that two characteristic biomechanical features of fimbrial resilience, namely, the extension force and the extension length, are significantly altered by the binding of antibodies to fimbriae. The fimbriae that were studied are normally expressed on enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, which are a major cause of diarrheal disease. This alteration in biomechanical properties was observed with bivalent polyclonal antifimbrial antibodies that recognize major pilin subunits but not with the Fab fragments of these antibodies. Thus, we propose that the mechanism by which bound antibodies disrupt the uncoiling of natural fimbria under force is by clamping together layers of the helical filament, thereby increasing their stiffness and reducing their resilience during fluid flow. In addition, we propose that antibodies tangle fimbriae via bivalent binding, i.e., by binding to two individual fimbriae and linking them together. Use of antibodies to disrupt physical properties of fimbriae may be generally applicable to the large number of Gram-negative bacteria that rely on these surface-adhesion molecules as an essential virulence factor.