Current concepts of molecular defence mechanisms operative during urinary tract infection

Eur J Clin Invest. 2008 Oct;38 Suppl 2:29-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2362.2008.02006.x.


Mucosal tissues such as the gastrointestinal tract are typically exposed to a tremendous number of microorganisms and many of them are potentially dangerous to the host. In contrast, the urogenital tract is rather infrequently colonized with bacterial organisms and also devoid of physical barriers as a multi-layered mucus or ciliated epithelia, thereby necessitating separate host defence mechanisms. Recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) represents the successful case of microbial host evasion and poses a major medical and economic health problem. During recent years considerable advances have been made in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the immune homeostasis of the urogenital tract. Hence, the system of pathogen-recognition receptors including the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) is able to sense danger signalling and thus activate the host immune system of the genitourinary tract. Additionally, various soluble antimicrobial molecules including iron-sequestering proteins, defensins, cathelicidin and Tamm-Horsfall protein (THP), as well as their role for the prevention of UTI by modulating innate and adaptive immunity, have been more clearly defined. Furthermore, signalling mediators like cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) or the circulatory hormone vasopressin were shown to be involved in the defence of uropathogenic microbes and maintenance of mucosal integrity. Beyond this, specific receptors e.g. CD46 or beta1/beta 3-integrins, have been elucidated that are hijacked by uropathogenic E. coli to enable invasion and survival within the urogenital system paving the way for chronic forms of urinary tract infection. Collectively, the majority of these findings offer novel avenues for basic and translational research implying effective therapies against the diverse forms of acute and chronic UTI.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Defensins / physiology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Integrins / physiology
  • Membrane Cofactor Protein / immunology
  • Mucoproteins / physiology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / physiology*
  • Urinary Bladder / immunology*
  • Urinary Bladder / metabolism
  • Urinary Tract Infections / immunology*
  • Uromodulin
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Defensins
  • Integrins
  • Membrane Cofactor Protein
  • Mucoproteins
  • Toll-Like Receptors
  • UMOD protein, human
  • Uromodulin