Characterization of translocation pores inserted into plasma membranes by type III-secreted Esp proteins of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli

Cell Microbiol. 2001 Oct;3(10):669-79. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-5822.2001.00146.x.


Many mucosal pathogens use type III secretion systems for the injection of effector proteins into target cells. The type III-secreted proteins EspB and EspD of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) are inserted into the target cell membrane. Together with EspA, these proteins are supposed to constitute a molecular syringe, channelling other effector proteins into the host cell. In this model, EspB and EspD would represent the tip of the needle forming a pore into target cell membranes. Although contact-dependent and Esp-mediated haemolytic activity by EPEC has already been described, the formation of a putative pore resulting in haemolysis has not been demonstrated so far. Here, we show that (i) diffusely adhering (DA)-EPEC strains exhibit a type III-dependent haemolytic activity too; (ii) this activity resides in the secreted proteins and, for DA-EPEC strains, in contrast to EPEC strains, does not require bacterial contact; and (iii) pores are introduced into the target cell membrane. Osmoprotection revealed a minimal pore size of 3-5 nm. The pores induced by type III-secreted proteins of DA-EPEC were characterized by electron microscopy techniques. Analysis by atomic force microscopy demonstrated the pores to be composed of six to eight subunits with a lateral extension of 55-65 nm and to be raised 15-20 nm above the membrane plane. We could also demonstrate an association of EspB and EspD with erythrocyte membranes and an interaction of both proteins with each other in vitro. These results, together with the homologies of EspB and EspD to proposed functional domains of other pore-forming proteins (Yop/Ipa), strongly support the idea that both proteins are directly involved in pore formation, which might represent the type III secretion system translocon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Erythrocytes / microbiology
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Hemolysis
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Molecular
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Sheep


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • EaeB protein, E coli
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • EspD protein, E coli
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins