Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Hung Ton-That, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph L. Alcorn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter J. Christie, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Danielle A. Garsin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Theresa M. Koehler, Ph.D.


Corynebacterium diphtheriae is the causative agent of cutaneous and pharyngeal diphtheria in humans. While lethality is certainly caused by diphtheria toxin, corynebacterial colonization may primarily require proteinaceous fibers called pili, which mediate adherence to specific tissues. The type strain of C. diphtheriae possesses three distinct pilus structures, namely the SpaA, SpaD, and SpaH-type pili, which are encoded by three distinct pilus gene clusters. The pilus is assembled onto the bacterial peptidoglycan by a specific transpeptidase enzyme called sortase. Although the SpaA pili are shown to be specific for pharyngeal cells in vitro, little is known about functions of the three pili in bacterial pathogenesis. This is mainly due to lack of in vivo models of corynebacterial infection. As an alternative to mouse models as mice do not have functional receptors for diphtheria toxin, in this study I use Caenorhabditis elegans as a model host for C. diphtheriae. A simple C. elegans model would be beneficial in determining the specific role of each pilus-type and the literature suggests that C. elegans infection model can be used to study a variety of bacterial species giving insight into bacterial virulence and host-pathogen interactions. My study examines the hypothesis that pili and toxin are major virulent determinants of C. diphtheriae in the C. elegans model host.


C. diphtheriae, pili, bacterial pathogenesis, C. elegans