Characterization of the ebp(fm) pilus-encoding operon of Enterococcus faecium and its role in biofilm formation and virulence in a murine model of urinary tract infection

Publication Date





We recently identified 15 genes encoding putative surface proteins with features of MSCRAMMs and/or pili in the Enterococcus faecium TX0016 (DO) genome, including four predicted pilus-encoding gene clusters; we also demonstrated that one of these, ebpABC(fm), is transcribed as an operon, that its putative major pilus subunit, EbpC(fm) (also called pilB), is polymerized into high molecular weight complexes, and that it is enriched among clinical E. faecium isolates. Here, we created a deletion of the ebpABC(fm) operon in an endocarditis-derived E. faecium strain (TX82) and showed, by a combination of whole-cell ELISA, flow cytometry, immunoblot and immunogold electron microscopy, that this deletion abolished EbpC(fm) expression and eliminated EbpC(fm)-containing pili from the cell surface. However, transcription of the downstream sortase, bps(fm), was not affected. Importantly, the ebpABC(fm) deletion resulted in significantly reduced biofilm formation (p < 0.0001) and initial adherence (p < 0.0001) versus the wild-type; both were restored by complementing ebpABC(fm) in trans, which also restored cell surface expression of EbpC(fm) and pilus production. Furthermore, the deletion mutant was significantly attenuated in two independent mixed infection mouse urinary tract experiments, i.e., outnumbered by the wild-type in kidneys (p = 0.0003 and < 0.0001, respectively) and urinary bladders (p = 0.0003 and = 0.002). In conclusion, we have shown that the ebpABC(fm) locus encodes pili on the E. faecium TX82 cell surface and provide the first evidence that pili of this emerging pathogen are important for its ability to form biofilm and to cause infection in an ascending UTI model.


Animals, Bacterial Adhesion, Bacterial Proteins, Biofilms, Disease Models, Animal, Enterococcus faecium, Fimbriae Proteins, Fimbriae, Bacterial, Gene Deletion, Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial, Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections, Humans, Kidney, Mice, Multigene Family, Operon, Urinary Tract Infections, Virulence