PhoU enhances the ability of extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli strain CFT073 to colonize the murine urinary tract

Microbiology. 2006 Jan;152(Pt 1):153-160. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.28281-0.


The phoU gene is the last cistron in the pstSCAB-phoU operon and functions as a negative regulator of the Pho regulon. The authors previously identified a phoU mutant of extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli strain CFT073 and demonstrated that this mutant was attenuated for survival in the murine model of ascending urinary tract infection. It is hypothesized that the PhoU protein might serve as a urovirulence factor by indirectly affecting the expression of virulence-related genes. In this study, the phoU mutant was further characterized and PhoU was confirmed as a virulence factor. Western blot analysis demonstrated that insertion of the transposon in the phoU gene disrupted the expression of PhoU. The phoU mutant had derepressed alkaline phosphatase activity under phosphate-excess and -limiting conditions. In single-challenge murine ascending urinary tract infection experiments, quantitative cultures of urine, bladder and kidney revealed no significant differences between the phoU mutant strain and the wild-type strain CFT073. However, in competitive colonization experiments, the phoU mutant strain was significantly out-competed by the wild-type strain in the kidneys and urine and recovered in lower amount in the bladder. Complementation of the phoU mutant with a plasmid containing the wild-type phoU gene restored the expression of PhoU and alkaline phosphate activity to wild-type levels and no significant difference in colonization was observed between the phoU mutant containing the complementing plasmid and wild-type in competitive colonization experiments. In human urine, the phoU mutant and wild-type grew comparably when inoculated independently, indicating that the attenuation observed was not due to a general growth defect. However, as observed in vivo, the wild-type out-competed the phoU mutant in competition growth experiments in human urine. These data indicate that PhoU contributes to efficient colonization of the murine urinary tract and add PhoU to a short list of confirmed urovirulence factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Down-Regulation
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / physiology*
  • Female Urogenital Diseases / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / microbiology
  • Male Urogenital Diseases*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Urinary Bladder / microbiology
  • Urine / microbiology
  • Virulence / immunology
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / physiology*


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Virulence Factors
  • phoU protein, E coli
  • Alkaline Phosphatase