Sugar metabolism, an additional virulence factor in enterobacteria

Int J Med Microbiol. 2011 Jan;301(1):1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2010.04.021. Epub 2010 Aug 11.


Enterobacteria display a high level of flexibility in their fermentative metabolism. Biotyping assays have thus been developed to discriminate between clinical isolates. Each biotype uses one or more sugars more efficiently than the others. Recent studies show links between sugar metabolism and virulence in enterobacteria. In particular, mechanisms of carbohydrate utilization differ substantially between pathogenic and commensal E. coli strains. We are now starting to gain insight into the importance of this variability in metabolic function. Studies using various animal models of intestinal colonization showed that the presence of the fos and deoK loci involved in the metabolism of short-chain fructoligosaccharides and deoxyribose, respectively, help avian and human pathogenic E. coli to outcompete with the normal flora and colonize the intestine. Both PTS and non-PTS sugar transporters have been found to modulate virulence of extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli strains. The vpe, GimA, and aec35-37 loci contribute to bacterial virulence in vivo during experimental septicemia and urinary tract infection, meningitis, and colibacillosis, respectively. However, in most cases, the sugars metabolized, and the precise role of their utilization in the expression of bacterial virulence is still unknown. The massive development of powerful analytical methods over recent years will allow establishing the knowledge of the metabolic basis of bacterial pathogenesis that appears to be the next challenge in the field of infectious diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism*
  • Deoxyribose / metabolism
  • Enterobacteriaceae / metabolism*
  • Enterobacteriaceae / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Virulence


  • Oligosaccharides
  • fructooligosaccharide
  • Deoxyribose