Open Access Research article

Pilus distribution among lineages of group b streptococcus: an evolutionary and clinical perspective

Amber Cody Springman1, David W Lacher2, Emily A Waymire1, Samantha L Wengert1, Pallavi Singh1, Ruth N Zadoks34, H Dele Davies5 and Shannon D Manning1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

2 Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Laurel, MD, USA

3 Institute for Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

4 Moredun Research Institute, Penicuik, UK

5 University of Nebraska Medical School, Omaha, NE, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:159  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-159

Published: 19 June 2014



Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is an opportunistic pathogen in both humans and bovines. Epidemiological and phylogenetic analyses have found strains belonging to certain phylogenetic lineages to be more frequently associated with invasive newborn disease, asymptomatic maternal colonization, and subclinical bovine mastitis. Pilus structures in GBS facilitate colonization and invasion of host tissues and play a role in biofilm formation, though few large-scale studies have estimated the frequency and diversity of the three pilus islands (PIs) across diverse genotypes. Here, we examined the distribution of pilus islands (PI) 1, 2a and 2b among 295 GBS strains representing 73 multilocus sequence types (STs) belonging to eight clonal complexes. PCR-based RFLP was also used to evaluate variation in the genes encoding pilus backbone proteins of PI-2a and PI-2b.


All 295 strains harbored one of the PI-2 variants and most human-derived strains contained PI-1. Bovine-derived strains lacked PI-1 and possessed a unique PI-2b backbone protein allele. Neonatal strains more frequently had PI-1 and a PI-2 variant than maternal colonizing strains, and most CC-17 strains had PI-1 and PI-2b with a distinct backbone protein allele. Furthermore, we present evidence for the frequent gain and loss of genes encoding certain pilus types.


These data suggest that pilus combinations impact host specificity and disease presentation and that diversification often involves the loss or acquisition of PIs. Such findings have implications for the development of GBS vaccines that target the three pilus islands.

Streptococcus agalactiae; Pilus; MLST; Molecular epidemiology