Co-ordinate expression of virulence genes during swarm-cell differentiation and population migration of Proteus mirabilis

Mol Microbiol. 1992 Jun;6(12):1583-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1992.tb00883.x.


The uropathogenic Gram-negative bacterium Proteus mirabilis exhibits a form of multicellular behaviour termed swarming, which involves cyclical differentiation of typical vegetative cells into filamentous, multinucleate, hyperflagellate swarm cells capable of rapid and co-ordinated population migration across surfaces. We observed that differentiation into swarm cells was accompanied by substantial increases in the activities of intracellular urease and extracellular haemolysin and metalloprotease, which are believed to be central to the pathogenicity of P. mirabilis. In addition, the ability of P. mirabilis to invade human urothelial cells in vitro was primarily a characteristic of differentiated swarm cells, not vegetative cells. These virulence factor activities fell back as the cells underwent cyclical reversion to the vegetative form (consolidation), in parallel with the diagnostic modulation of flagellin levels on the cell surface. Control cellular alkaline phosphatase activities did not increase during differentiation or consolidation. Non-flagellated, nonmotile transposon insertion mutants were unable to invade urothelial cells and they generated only low-level activities of haemolysin, urease and protease (0-10% of wild type). Motile mutants unable to differentiate into swarm cells were comparably reduced in their haemolytic, ureolytic and invasive phenotypes and generated threefold less protease activity. Mutants that were able to form swarm cells but exhibited various aberrant patterns of swarming migration produced wild-type activities of haemolysin, urease and protease, but their ability to enter urothelial cells was three- to 10-fold lower.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Endopeptidases / biosynthesis*
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Genes, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Proteus mirabilis / genetics
  • Proteus mirabilis / growth & development*
  • Proteus mirabilis / pathogenicity
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Urease / biosynthesis*
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Endopeptidases
  • Urease