Investigating the Role of Trimeric Autotransporter Adhesins in Fusobacterium nucleatum Pathogenesis


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Virginia Tech


Fusobacterium nucleatum is a Gram-negative bacterium that serves as a bridging organism in polymicrobial biofilms within the oral cavity. Although the bacterium is abundant in healthy gingival tissue, recent studies have found that F. nucleatum is associated with a wide-spectrum of human diseases which include periodontal disease, preterm birth, endocarditis, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Previous studies of F. nucleatum virulence have uncovered two surface adhesins, Fap2 and FadA, that interact with the surface of human cells; however, the study of new virulence factors was previously limited as there was no gene deletion system available to functionally analyze F. nucleatum proteins.

Interestingly, F. nucleatum has a diverse landscape of structurally unique surface adhesins called Type 5c secreted trimeric autotransporter adhesins (TAAs), which are a family of proteins that are historically known for their contributions to bacterial pathogenesis. This dissertation encompasses the use of recombinant protein expression systems and newly developed gene deletion technology to provide a foundational understanding of the contribution of Type 5c secreted proteins in F. nucleatum pathogenesis. Our results show that the presence of TAAs on the surface of F. nucleatum contribute to the bacterium's ability to bind and invade human cells, establishing the need to characterize other F. nucleatum surface proteins.

Additionally, our studies analyzed the proinflammatory landscape induced by F. nucleatum through the identification of specific cytokines that are being secreted during in vitro infections of human cells. Cytokine signaling is a critical aspect of the host cell immune response as it promotes the recruitment of immune cells to the site of infection for efficient clearance of bacterial pathogens. While it has been well established that F. nucleatum modulates the secretion of IL-8, our studies identified that the bacterium also promotes the secretion of CXCL1, which is an important signaling protein that promotes tumor metastases. Overall, the work provided in this dissertation has delivered the initial characterization of TAAs in F. nucleatum virulence, a framework for future studies of Type 5c secreted proteins in Fusobacterium pathogenesis, and the role of Fap2 and FadA in promoting pro-inflammatory and pro-metastatic signaling from colorectal cancer cells.



Fusobacterium, trimeric autotransporter, host-pathogen interactions, intracellular survival, chemoresistance, microbiome, microbiology