Differential gene expression for investigation of Escherichia coli biofilm inhibition by plant extract ursolic acid

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Jul;71(7):4022-34. doi: 10.1128/AEM.71.7.4022-4034.2005.


After 13,000 samples of compounds purified from plants were screened, a new biofilm inhibitor, ursolic acid, has been discovered and identified. Using both 96-well microtiter plates and a continuous flow chamber with COMSTAT analysis, 10 microg of ursolic acid/ml inhibited Escherichia coli biofilm formation 6- to 20-fold when added upon inoculation and when added to a 24-h biofilm; however, ursolic acid was not toxic to E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Vibrio harveyi, and hepatocytes. Similarly, 10 microg of ursolic acid/ml inhibited biofilm formation by >87% for P. aeruginosa in both complex and minimal medium and by 57% for V. harveyi in minimal medium. To investigate the mechanism of this nontoxic inhibition on a global genetic basis, DNA microarrays were used to study the gene expression profiles of E. coli K-12 grown with or without ursolic acid. Ursolic acid at 10 and 30 microg/ml induced significantly (P < 0.05) 32 and 61 genes, respectively, and 19 genes were consistently induced. The consistently induced genes have functions for chemotaxis and mobility (cheA, tap, tar, and motAB), heat shock response (hslSTV and mopAB), and unknown functions (such as b1566 and yrfHI). There were 31 and 17 genes repressed by 10 and 30 microg of ursolic acid/ml, respectively, and 12 genes were consistently repressed that have functions in cysteine synthesis (cysK) and sulfur metabolism (cysD), as well as unknown functions (such as hdeAB and yhaDFG). Ursolic acid inhibited biofilms without interfering with quorum sensing, as shown with the V. harveyi AI-1 and AI-2 reporter systems. As predicted by the differential gene expression, deleting motAB counteracts ursolic acid inhibition (the paralyzed cells no longer become too motile). Based on the differential gene expression, it was also discovered that sulfur metabolism (through cysB) affects biofilm formation (in the absence of ursolic acid).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Diospyros / chemistry*
  • Escherichia coli K12 / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli K12 / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Ursolic Acid


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Plant Extracts
  • Triterpenes