The meningococcal autotransporter AutA is implicated in autoaggregation and biofilm formation

Jesús Arenas*, Sara Cano, Reindert Nijland, Vérène van Dongen, Lucy Rutten, Arie van der Ende, Jan Tommassen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Summary: Autotransporters (ATs) are proteins secreted by Gram-negative bacteria that often play a role in virulence. Eight different ATs have been identified in Neisseria meningitidis, but only six of them have been characterized. AutA is one of the remaining ATs. Its expression remains controversial. Here, we show that the autA gene is present in many neisserial species, but its expression is often disrupted by various genetic features; however, it is expressed in certain strains of N.meningitidis. By sequencing the autA gene in large panels of disease isolates and Western blot analysis, we demonstrated that AutA expression is prone to phase variation at AAGC nucleotide repeats located within the DNA encoding the signal sequence. AutA is not secreted into the extracellular medium, but remains associated with the bacterial cell surface. We further demonstrate that AutA expression induces autoaggregation in a process that, dependent on the particular strain, may require extracellular DNA (eDNA). This property influences the organization of bacterial communities like lattices and biofilms. In vitro assays evidenced that AutA is a self-associating AT that binds DNA. We suggest that AutA-mediated autoaggregation might be particularly important for colonization and persistence of the pathogen in the nasopharynx of the host.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1321-1337
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


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