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Journal of Bacteriology


Pseudomonas aeruginosa exhibits distinct surface-associated behaviors, including biofilm formation, flagellum-mediated swarming motility, and type IV pilus-driven twitching. Here, we report a role for the minor pilins, PilW and PilX, components of the type IV pilus assembly machinery, in the repression of swarming motility. Mutating either the pilW or pilX gene alleviates the inhibition of swarming motility observed for strains with elevated levels of the intracellular signaling molecule cyclic di-GMP (c-di-GMP) due to loss of BifA, a c-di-GMP-degrading phosphodiesterase. Blocking PilD peptidase-mediated processing of PilW and PilX renders the unprocessed proteins defective for pilus assembly but still functional in c-di-GMP-mediated swarming repression, indicating our ability to separate these functions. Strains with mutations in pilW or pilX also fail to exhibit the increase in c-di-GMP levels observed when wild-type (WT) or bifA mutant cells are grown on a surface. We also provide data showing that c-di-GMP levels are increased upon PilY1 overexpression in surface-grown cells and that this c-di-GMP increase does not occur in the absence of the SadC diguanylate cyclase. Increased levels of endogenous PilY1, PilX, and PilA are observed when cells are grown on a surface compared to liquid growth, linking surface growth and enhanced signaling via SadC. Our data support a model wherein PilW, PilX, and PilY1, in addition to their role(s) in type IV pilus biogenesis, function to repress swarming via modulation of intracellular c-di-GMP levels. By doing so, these pilus assembly proteins contribute to P. aeruginosa's ability to coordinately regulate biofilm formation with its two surface motility systems.