The giant staphylococcal protein Embp facilitates colonization of surfaces through Velcro-like attachment to fibrillated fibronectin

Nasar Khan, Hüsnü Aslan, Henning Büttner, Holger Rohde, Thaddeus Wayne Golbek, Steven Joop Roeters, Sander Woutersen, Tobias Weidner, Rikke Louise Meyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Staphylococcus epidermidis causes some of the most hard-to-treat clinical infections by forming biofilms: Multicellular communities of bacteria encased in a protective matrix, supporting immune evasion and tolerance against antibiotics. Biofilms occur most commonly on medical implants, and a key event in implant colonization is the robust adherence to the surface, facilitated by interactions between bacterial surface proteins and host matrix components. S. epidermidis is equipped with a giant adhesive protein, Embp, which facilitates bacterial interactions with surface-deposited, but not soluble fibronectin. The structural basis behind this selective binding process has remained obscure. Using a suite of single-cell and single-molecule analysis techniques, we show that S. epidermidis is capable of such distinction because Embp binds specifically to fibrillated fibronectin on surfaces, while ignoring globular fibronectin in solution. S. epidermidis adherence is critically dependent on multi-valent interactions involving 50 fibronectin-binding repeats of Embp. This unusual, Velcro-like interaction proved critical for colonization of surfaces under high flow, making this newly identified attachment mechanism particularly relevant for colonization of intravascular devices, such as prosthetic heart valves or vascular grafts. Other biofilm-forming pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, express homologs of Embp and likely deploy the same mechanism for surface colonization. Our results may open for a novel direction in efforts to combat devastating, biofilm-associated infections, as the development of implant materials that steer the conformation of adsorbed proteins is a much more manageable task than avoiding protein adsorption altogether.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere76164
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • AFM
  • Embp
  • Other
  • SDRG
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • bacterial adhesion
  • fibronectin
  • multivalent


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