Subcellular localization of type IV pili regulates bacterial multicellular development.
In mammals, subcellular protein localization of factors like planar cell polarity proteins is a key driver of the multicellular organization of tissues. Bacteria also form organized multicellular communities, but these patterns are largely thought to emerge from regulation of whole-cell processes like growth, motility, cell shape, and differentiation. Here we show that a unique intracellular patterning of appendages known as type IV pili (T4P) can drive multicellular development of complex bacterial communities. Specifically, dynamic T4P appendages localize in a line along the long axis of the cell in the bacterium Acinetobacter baylyi. This long-axis localization is regulated by a functionally divergent chemosensory Pil-Chp system, and an atypical T4P protein homologue (FimV) bridges Pil-Chp signaling and T4P positioning. We further demonstrate through modeling and empirical approaches that subcellular T4P localization controls how individual cells interact with one another, independently of T4P dynamics, with different patterns of localization giving rise to distinct multicellular architectures. Our results reveal how subcellular patterning of single cells regulates the development of multicellular bacterial communities.