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Many bacteria, including the major human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, are naturally found in multicellular, antibiotic-tolerant biofilm communities, in which cells are embedded in an extracellular matrix of polymeric molecules. Cell-cell interactions within P. aeruginosa biofilms are mediated by CdrA, a large, membrane-associated adhesin present in the extracellular matrix of biofilms, regulated by the cytoplasmic concentration of cyclic diguanylate. Here, using electron cryotomography of focused ion beam-milled specimens, we report the architecture of CdrA molecules in the extracellular matrix of P. aeruginosa biofilms at intact cell-cell junctions. Combining our in situ observations at cell-cell junctions with biochemistry, native mass spectrometry, and cellular imaging, we demonstrate that CdrA forms an extended structure that projects from the outer membrane to tether cells together via polysaccharide binding partners. We go on to show the functional importance of CdrA using custom single-domain antibody (nanobody) binders. Nanobodies targeting the tip of functional cell-surface CdrA molecules could be used to inhibit bacterial biofilm formation or disrupt preexisting biofilms in conjunction with bactericidal antibiotics. These results reveal a functional mechanism for cell-cell interactions within bacterial biofilms and highlight the promise of using inhibitors targeting biofilm cell-cell junctions to prevent or treat problematic, chronic bacterial infections.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publication Date





Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RE, United Kingdom.