Type Three Secretion System-Dependent Microvascular Thrombosis and Ischemic Enteritis in Human Gut Xenografts Infected with Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli

Infect Immun. 2017 Oct 18;85(11):e00558-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00558-17. Print 2017 Nov.


Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) is a leading cause of severe intestinal disease and infant mortality in developing countries. Virulence is mediated by a type three secretion system (T3SS), causing the hallmark attaching and effacing (AE) lesions and actin-rich pedestal formation beneath the infecting bacteria on the apical surface of enterocytes. EPEC is a human-specific pathogen whose pathogenesis cannot be studied in animal models. We therefore established an EPEC infection model in human gut xenografts in SCID mice and used it to study the role of T3SS in the pathogenesis of the disease. Following EPEC O127:H6 strain E2348/69 infection, T3SS-dependent AE lesions and pedestals were demonstrated in all infected xenografts. We report here the development of T3SS-dependent intestinal thrombotic microangiopathy (iTMA) and ischemic enteritis in ∼50% of infected human gut xenografts. Using species-specific CD31 immunostaining, we showed that iTMA was limited to the larger human-mouse chimeric blood vessels, which are located between the muscularis mucosa and circular muscular layer of the human gut. These blood vessels were massively invaded by bacteria, which adhered to and formed pedestals on endothelial cells and aggregated with mouse neutrophils in the lumen. We conclude that endothelial infection, iTMA, and ischemic enteritis might be central mechanisms underlying severe EPEC-mediated disease.

Keywords: EPEC; T3SS; human gut xenograft; mouse model; thrombotic microangiopathy.