A number of biomechanical properties of various types of pili expressed by Escherichia coli, predominantly their force–vs.–elongation behavior, have previously been assessed in detail on a single pilus level. In vivo, however, bacteria bind in general to host cells by a multitude of pili, which presumably provides them with adhesion properties that differs from those of single pili. Based upon the previously assessed biomechanical properties of individual pili, this work presents a theoretical analysis of the adhesion properties of multipili–attaching bacteria expressing helix–like pili exposed to an external force. Expressions for the adhesion lifetime of dual– and multipili–attaching bacteria are derived and their validity is verified by Monte Carlo simulations. It is shown that the adhesion lifetime of a multipili–binding bacterium depends to a large degree on the cooperativity of the attaching pili, which, in turn, depends strongly on their internal biomechanical properties, in particular their helix–like structure and its ability to elongate, which, in turn, depend on the intrinsic properties of the bonds, e.g. their lengths and activation energies. It is shown, for example, that a decrease in the length of a layer–to–layer bond in the rod of P pili, expressed by E. coli, by 50 % leads to a decrease in the adhesion lifetime of a bacterium attaching by 10 pili and exposed to a force of 500 pN by three orders of magnitude. The results indicate moreover that the intrinsic properties of the rod for this particular type of pili are optimized for multipili attachment under a broad range of external forces and presumably also to its in vivo environment. Even though the results presented in this work apply quantitatively to one type of pilus, they are assumed to apply qualitatively to all helix–like pili systems expressing slip bonds.
2009. Vol. 130, 235102- p.