Type IV pili (TFP) are important colonization factors of the opportunistic pathogen
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, involved in biofilm formation and attachment to host cells. This study undertook a comprehensive analysis of TFP alleles in more than 290 environmental, clinical, rectal and cystic fibrosis (CF) isolates of P. aeruginosa. Based on the results, a new system of nomenclature is proposed, in which P. aeruginosaTFP are divided into five distinct phylogenetic groups. Each pilin allele is stringently associated with characteristic, distinct accessory genes that allow the identification of the allele by specific PCR. The invariant association of the pilin and accessory genes implies horizontal transfer of the entire locus. Analysis of pilin allele distribution among isolates from various sources revealed a striking bias in the prevalence of isolates with group I pilin genes from CF compared with non-CF human sources ( P<0·0001), suggesting this particular pilin type, which can be post-translationally modified by glycosylation via the action of TfpO (PilO), may confer a colonization or persistence advantage in the CF host. This allele was also predominant in paediatric CF isolates (29 of 43; 67·4 %), showing that this bias is apparent early in colonization. Group I pilins were also the most common type found in environmental isolates tested. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first example of a P. aeruginosavirulence factor allele that is strongly associated with CF isolates.