Virulence-associated acquisition of iron in mammalian serum by Escherichia coli

J Infect Dis. 1977 Apr;135(4):623-32. doi: 10.1093/infdis/135.4.623.


Effects of iron on the growth of avirulent and virulent strains of Escherichia coli were tested in mice and in mammalian sera. Infection of the animals with iron increased mortality rates in mice infected with the avirulent strain to levels found in mice infected with the virulent strain. In vitro experiments showed that bacteria deprived of iron in bovine or human sera or milk or in chicken egg white stopped miltiplication and died in a very short time. These antibacterial effects were neutralized effectively with the addition of exogenous iron or the iron-binding bacterial product, enterochelin. In contrast to avirulent bacteria, which were effectively inhibited in mammalian serum, virulent bacteria were able to obtain iron and multiply. The ability of virulent bacteria to grow in mammalian serum is being attributed to the presence of iron-binding enterochelin and lipopolysaccharide in large amounts on the cell walls of virulent bacteria.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Wall
  • Enterobactin
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Virulence


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Enterobactin
  • Iron