Microcins mediate competition among Enterobacteriaceae in the inflamed gut

Nature. 2016 Dec 8;540(7632):280-283. doi: 10.1038/nature20557. Epub 2016 Oct 31.


The Enterobacteriaceae are a family of Gram-negative bacteria that include commensal organisms as well as primary and opportunistic pathogens that are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although Enterobacteriaceae often comprise less than 1% of a healthy intestine's microbiota, some of these organisms can bloom in the inflamed gut; expansion of enterobacteria is a hallmark of microbial imbalance known as dysbiosis. Microcins are small secreted proteins that possess antimicrobial activity in vitro, but whose role in vivo has been unclear. Here we demonstrate that microcins enable the probiotic bacterium Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 (EcN) to limit the expansion of competing Enterobacteriaceae (including pathogens and pathobionts) during intestinal inflammation. Microcin-producing EcN limits the growth of competitors in the inflamed intestine, including commensal E. coli, adherent-invasive E. coli and the related pathogen Salmonella enterica. Moreover, only therapeutic administration of the wild-type, microcin-producing EcN to mice previously infected with S. enterica substantially reduced intestinal colonization by the pathogen. Our work provides the first evidence that microcins mediate inter- and intraspecies competition among the Enterobacteriaceae in the inflamed gut. Moreover, we show that microcins can act as narrow-spectrum therapeutics to inhibit enteric pathogens and reduce enterobacterial blooms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteriocins / genetics
  • Bacteriocins / metabolism*
  • Bacteriocins / therapeutic use
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology
  • Enterobacteriaceae / growth & development*
  • Enterobacteriaceae / pathogenicity
  • Escherichia coli / classification
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / microbiology*
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Intestines / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Probiotics / metabolism
  • Salmonella enterica / growth & development
  • Salmonella enterica / pathogenicity
  • Symbiosis


  • Bacteriocins
  • microcin