Metabolic Requirements of Escherichia coli in Intracellular Bacterial Communities during Urinary Tract Infection Pathogenesis

mBio. 2016 Apr 12;7(2):e00104-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00104-16.


Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the primary etiological agent of over 85% of community-acquired urinary tract infections (UTIs). Mouse models of infection have shown that UPEC can invade bladder epithelial cells in a type 1 pilus-dependent mechanism, avoid a TLR4-mediated exocytic process, and escape into the host cell cytoplasm. The internalized UPEC can clonally replicate into biofilm-like intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs) of thousands of bacteria while avoiding many host clearance mechanisms. Importantly, IBCs have been documented in urine from women and children suffering acute UTI. To understand this protected bacterial niche, we elucidated the transcriptional profile of bacteria within IBCs using microarrays. We delineated the upregulation within the IBC of genes involved in iron acquisition, metabolism, and transport. Interestingly, lacZ was highly upregulated, suggesting that bacteria were sensing and/or utilizing a galactoside for metabolism in the IBC. A ΔlacZ strain displayed significantly smaller IBCs than the wild-type strain and was attenuated during competitive infection with a wild-type strain. Similarly, a galK mutant resulted in smaller IBCs and attenuated infection. Further, analysis of the highly upregulated gene yeaR revealed that this gene contributes to oxidative stress resistance and type 1 pilus production. These results suggest that bacteria within the IBC are under oxidative stress and, consistent with previous reports, utilize nonglucose carbon metabolites. Better understanding of the bacterial mechanisms used for IBC development and establishment of infection may give insights into development of novel anti-virulence strategies.

Importance: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common bacterial infections, impacting mostly women. Every year, millions of UTIs occur in the U.S. with most being caused by uropathogenic E. coli(UPEC). During a UTI, UPEC invade bladder cells and form an intracellular bacterial community (IBC) that allows for the bacteria to replicate protected from the host immune response. In this study, we investigated genes that are expressed by UPEC within the IBC and determined how they contribute to the formation of this specialized community. Our findings suggest that galactose is important for UPEC growth in the IBC. Additionally, we found that a gene involved in oxidative stress is also important in the regulation of a key factor needed for UPEC invasion of bladder cells. These results may open the door for the development of treatments to diminish UTI frequency and/or severity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biofilms
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Galactose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Urinary Tract / microbiology*
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Carbon
  • Galactose