Regulation of production of type 1 pili among urinary tract isolates of Escherichia coli

Infect Immun. 1986 Dec;54(3):613-20. doi: 10.1128/iai.54.3.613-620.1986.


The piliation and hemagglutination properties of 54 consecutive Escherichia coli isolates from women with recurrent urinary tract infections were studied. Mannose-sensitive hemagglutination (MSHA) of guinea pig erythrocytes, characteristic of type 1-piliated bacteria, was produced by 75% of the isolates, 32% produced mannose-insensitive hemagglutination, and 14% produced no hemagglutination reaction. The production of type 1 pili was examined in those strains that produced MSHA only. Studies with antiserum prepared against purified pili suggested that at least three subtypes of type 1 hemagglutinins were represented among the isolates. All of the type 1-piliated isolates produced MSHA after serial subculture in static broth. After growth on agar, selected type 1-piliated isolates were subdivided into two groups. Many strains apparently suppressed piliation during growth on agar (regulated variants); all colonies became MSHA negative and were composed of nonpiliated cells as shown by electron microscopy. The loss of the MSHA phenotype often occurred after a single overnight passage on agar, and any remaining hemagglutinin was gradually lost with one to three additional passages. Seven strains, however, retained a significant hemagglutination titer after multiple subcultures on agar, and they produced colonies consisting of a mixed population of piliated and nonpiliated cells. These strains were apparently able to oscillate between states of pilus expression and nonexpression during growth on agar (random phase variants). When nonpiliated cells isolated from the mixed, random variant population were plated on agar, they gave rise to hemagglutination-positive colonies that consisted of both piliated and nonpiliated cells. The distinction between random variants and regulated variants was also observed in shaking broth cultures inoculated with nonpiliated cells. The random variants produced MSHA-positive cultures composed of piliated and nonpiliated cells, whereas the regulated strains remained nonpiliated. The results indicate that type 1 pili are a predominant adhesin of uropathogenic E. coli and that during growth on agar only about one-fourth of the type 1-piliated isolates regulate pilus expression by random phase variation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agar
  • Culture Media
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Hemagglutinins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Mannose
  • Morphogenesis
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*


  • Culture Media
  • Hemagglutinins
  • Agar
  • Mannose