Molecular Basis for Lytic Bacteriophage Resistance in Enterococci

mBio. 2016 Aug 30;7(4):e01304-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01304-16.


The human intestine harbors diverse communities of bacteria and bacteriophages. Given the specificity of phages for their bacterial hosts, there is growing interest in using phage therapies to combat the rising incidence of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. A significant barrier to such therapies is the rapid development of phage-resistant bacteria, highlighting the need to understand how bacteria acquire phage resistance in vivo Here we identify novel lytic phages in municipal raw sewage that kill Enterococcus faecalis, a Gram-positive opportunistic pathogen that resides in the human intestine. We show that phage infection of E. faecalis requires a predicted integral membrane protein that we have named PIPEF (for phage infection protein from E. faecalis). We find that PIPEF is conserved in E. faecalis and harbors a 160-amino-acid hypervariable region that determines phage tropism for distinct enterococcal strains. Finally, we use a gnotobiotic mouse model of in vivo phage predation to show that the sewage phages temporarily reduce E. faecalis colonization of the intestine but that E. faecalis acquires phage resistance through mutations in PIPEF Our findings define the molecular basis for an evolutionary arms race between E. faecalis and the lytic phages that prey on them. They also suggest approaches for engineering E. faecalis phages that have altered host specificity and that can subvert phage resistance in the host bacteria.

Importance: Bacteriophage therapy has received renewed attention as a potential solution to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. However, bacteria can acquire phage resistance, posing a major barrier to phage therapy. To overcome this problem, it is necessary to understand phage resistance mechanisms in bacteria. We have unraveled one such resistance mechanism in Enterococcus faecalis, a Gram-positive natural resident of the human intestine that has acquired antibiotic resistance and can cause opportunistic infections. We have identified a cell wall protein hypervariable region that specifies phage tropism in E. faecalis Using a gnotobiotic mouse model of in vivo phage predation, we show that E. faecalis acquires phage resistance through mutations in this cell wall protein. Our findings define the molecular basis for lytic phage resistance in E. faecalis They also suggest opportunities for engineering E. faecalis phages that circumvent the problem of bacterial phage resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteriophages / isolation & purification
  • Bacteriophages / physiology*
  • Carrier State / microbiology
  • Enterococcus faecalis / genetics*
  • Enterococcus faecalis / virology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Mutant Proteins / genetics
  • Sewage / virology
  • Viral Tropism*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mutant Proteins
  • Sewage