Origins and virulence mechanisms of uropathogenic Escherichia coli

Exp Mol Pathol. 2008 Aug;85(1):11-9. doi: 10.1016/j.yexmp.2008.03.007. Epub 2008 Apr 8.


Strains of uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) are the primary cause of urinary tract infections, including both cystitis and pyelonephritis. These bacteria have evolved a multitude of virulence factors and strategies that facilitate bacterial growth and persistence within the adverse settings of the host urinary tract. Expression of adhesive organelles like type 1 and P pili allow UPEC to bind and invade host cells and tissues within the urinary tract while expression of iron-chelating factors (siderophores) enable UPEC to pilfer host iron stores. Deployment of an array of toxins, including hemolysin and cytotoxic necrotizing factor 1, provide UPEC with the means to inflict extensive tissue damage, facilitating bacterial dissemination as well as releasing host nutrients and disabling immune effector cells. These toxins also have the capacity to modulate, in more subtle ways, host signaling pathways affecting myriad processes, including inflammatory responses, host cell survival, and cytoskeletal dynamics. Here, we discuss the mechanisms by which these and other virulence factors promote UPEC survival and growth within the urinary tract. Comparisons are also made between UPEC and other strains of extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli that, although closely related to UPEC, are distinct in their abilities to colonize the host and cause disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / immunology
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Virulence / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism*


  • Virulence Factors