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Bacterial adhesin

Synonym: adhesin
German: Adhäsin

1 Definition

Adhesins are bacterial surface components that allow pathogens to adhere to biological structures of the host (adherence). They belong to the group of virulence factors because adherence is a crucial prerequisite for the colonization of hosts.

2 Background

Over the course of evolution, bacteria developed different strategies to adhere to their hosts which resulted in a large number of different adhesins. The organotropism of some bacteria can be explained by the fact that adhesins developed a specificity for certain proteins of host cells. In gram-negative pathogens, fimbriae are used for adherence, although only a small protein subunit in the tip of the fimbria represents the actual adhesin. Gram-positive bacteria use a protein or polysaccharide layer on their surface for adherence.

3 Biochemistry

Bacterial adhesins consist primarily of a structural protein that is anchored in their cell membrane and functions as an attachment point for various extracellular components. Sometimes the structural protein itself can appear as an adhesin, if parts of its molecule protrude into the extracellular space.

One of the best known adhesins is FimH which is located on type I fimbriae and attaches to D-Mannose. It is derived from its precursor protein (300 amino acids) which is transformed to the definitive adhesin (279 amino acids) by removing signal peptides. Further examples for adhesins are:

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