Importance of twitching and surface-associated motility in the virulence of Acinetobacter baumannii
Acinetobacter baumannii is a pathogen of increasing clinical importance worldwide, especially given its ability to readily acquire resistance determinants. Motile strains of this bacterium can move by either or both of two types of motility: (i) twitching, driven by type IV pili, and (ii) surface-associated motility, an appendage-independent form of movement. A. baumannii strain MAR002 possesses both twitching and surface-associated motility. In this study, we isolated spontaneous rifampin-resistant mutants of strain MAR002 in which point mutations in the rpoB gene were identified that resulted in an altered motility pattern. Transcriptomic analysis of mutants lacking twitching, surface-associated motility, or both led to the identification of deregulated genes within each motility phenotype, based on their level of expression and their biological function. Investigations of the corresponding knockout mutants revealed several genes involved in the motility of A. baumannii strain MAR002, including two involved in twitching (encoding a minor pilin subunit and an RND [resistance nodulation division] component), one in surface-associated motility (encoding an amino acid permease), and eight in both (encoding RND and ABC components, the energy transducer TonB, the porin OprD, the T6SS component TagF, an IclR transcriptional regulator, a PQQ-dependent sugar dehydrogenase, and a putative pectate lyase). Virulence assays showed the reduced pathogenicity of mutants with impairments in both types of motility or in surface-associated motility alone. By contrast, the virulence of twitching-affected mutants was not affected. These results shed light on the key role of surface-associated motility and the limited role of twitching in the pathogenicity of A. baumannii.