Intracellular bacteria in the pathogenesis of Escherichia coli urinary tract infection in children

Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Dec 1;59(11):e158-64. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciu634. Epub 2014 Aug 4.


Background: Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the most common agent of urinary tract infection (UTI). The classic model of pathogenesis proposes the ascent of UPEC by the urethra and external adherence to the urothelium. Recently, the ability of UPEC to invade urothelial cells and to form intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs) has been described.

Methods: The objective of the present study was to determine the presence of intracellular bacteria (IB) in children with UTI caused by E. coli and to characterize its virulence attributes and its relation with clinical outcomes. One hundred thirty-three children with E. coli UTI who attended a reference children's hospital between June and November 2012 were included. Urine samples were analyzed by optical and confocal microscopy looking for exfoliated urothelial cells with IB. Phylogenetic group and 24 virulence factors of UPEC were determined using multiplex polymerase chain reaction. Medical records were analyzed.

Results: The presence of IB was detected in 49 of 133 (36.8%) samples by confocal microscopy, in 30 cases as IBC, and in 19 as isolated intracellular bacteria (IIB). Only 50% of these cases could be detected by light microscopy. Seventy-four medical records were analyzed, 34 with IBC/IIB, 40 without IB. Any virulence gene was associated with IBC/IIB. The presence of IBC/IIB was associated with recurrent UTI (odds ratio [OR], 3.3; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.3-9; P = .017), especially in children without urinary tract functional or morphological abnormalities (OR, 8.0; 95% CI, 2.3-27.4; P = .000). IBCs were associated with lower urinary tract syndrome (OR, 3.6; 95% CI, 1.1-11.8; P = .05) and absence of fever (P = .009).

Conclusions: IBCs/IIB could explain a high proportion of children with recurrent UTI.

Keywords: E. coli pathogenicity; intracellular bacterial communities; urinary tract infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intracellular Space / microbiology
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Urothelium / cytology
  • Urothelium / microbiology