The gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron influences the virulence potential of the enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O103:H25

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 26;10(2):e0118140. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118140. eCollection 2015.


Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) is associated with severe gastrointestinal disease. Upon entering the gastrointestinal tract, EHEC is exposed to a fluctuating environment and a myriad of other bacterial species. To establish an infection, EHEC strains have to modulate their gene expression according to the GI tract environment. In order to explore the interspecies interactions between EHEC and an human intestinal commensal, the global gene expression profile was determined of EHEC O103:H25 (EHEC NIPH-11060424) co-cultured with B. thetaiotaomicron (CCUG 10774) or grown in the presence of spent medium from B. thetaiotaomicron. Microarray analysis revealed that approximately 1% of the EHEC NIPH-11060424 genes were significantly up-regulated both in co-culture (30 genes) and in the presence of spent medium (44 genes), and that the affected genes differed between the two conditions. In co-culture, genes encoding structural components of the type three secretion system were among the most affected genes with an almost 4-fold up-regulation, while the most affected genes in spent medium were involved in chemotaxis and were more than 3-fold up-regulated. The operons for type three secretion system (TTSS) are located on the Locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) pathogenicity island, and qPCR showed that genes of all five operons (LEE1-LEE5) were up-regulated. Moreover, an increased adherence to HeLa cells was observed in EHEC NIPH-11060424 exposed to B. thetaiotaomicron. Expression of stx2 genes, encoding the main virulence factor of EHEC, was down-regulated in both conditions (co-culture/spent medium). These results show that expression of EHEC genes involved in colonization and virulence is modulated in response to direct interspecies contact between cells, or to diffusible factors released from B. thetaiotaomicron. Such interspecies interactions could allow the pathogen to recognize its predilection site and modulate its behaviour accordingly, thus increasing the efficiency of colonization of the colon mucosa, facilitating its persistence and increasing its virulence potential.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteroides / metabolism*
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Microbial Consortia*
  • Operon
  • Shiga Toxin 2 / genetics
  • Shiga Toxin 2 / metabolism
  • Transcriptome
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Shiga Toxin 2

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.