The adhesion capability of Staphylococcus aureus cells is heterogeneously distributed over the cell envelope

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Christian Spengler - , Saarland University (Author)
  • Erik Maikranz - , Saarland University (Author)
  • Bernhard Glatz - , Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden (Author)
  • Michael Andreas Klatt - , Saarland University, Princeton University (Author)
  • Hannah Heintz - , Saarland University (Author)
  • Markus Bischoff - , Saarland University (Author)
  • Ludger Santen - , Saarland University (Author)
  • Andreas Fery - , Chair of Physical Chemistry of Polymeric Materials, Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden (Author)
  • Karin Jacobs - , Saarland University (Author)


Understanding and controlling microbial adhesion is a critical challenge in biomedical research, given the profound impact of bacterial infections on global health. Many facets of bacterial adhesion, including the distribution of adhesion forces across the cell wall, remain poorly understood. While a recent ‘patchy colloid’ model has shed light on adhesion in Gram-negative Escherichia coli cells, a corresponding model for Gram-positive cells has been elusive. In this study, we employ single cell force spectroscopy to investigate the adhesion force of Staphylococcus aureus. Normally, only one contact point of the entire bacterial surface is measured. However, by using a sine-shaped surface and recording force-distance curves along a path perpendicular to the rippled structures, we can characterize almost a hemisphere of one and the same bacterium. This unique approach allows us to study a greater number of contact points between the bacterium and the surface compared to conventional flat substrata. Distributed over the bacterial surface, we identify sites of higher and lower adhesion, which we call ‘patchy adhesion’, reminiscent of the patchy colloid model. The experimental results show that only some cells exhibit particularly strong adhesion at certain locations. To gain a better understanding of these locations, a geometric model of the bacterial cell surface was created. The experimental results were best reproduced by a model that features a few (5-6) particularly strong adhesion sites (diameter about 250 nm) that are widely distributed over the cell surface. Within the simulated patches, the number of molecules or their individual adhesive strength is increased. A more detailed comparison shows that simple geometric considerations for interacting molecules are not sufficient, but rather strong angle-dependent molecule-substratum interactions are required. We discuss the implications of our results for the development of new materials and the design and analysis of future studies.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-494
Number of pages12
JournalSoft matter
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2023

External IDs

PubMed 37842771


Library keywords