An adherent mucus layer attenuates the genotoxic effect of colibactin

Cell Microbiol. 2018 Feb;20(2). doi: 10.1111/cmi.12812. Epub 2017 Dec 5.


The human gastrointestinal tract is a complex ecosystem in which epithelial cells and microorganisms of the intestinal microbiota live in symbiosis. Certain members of the microbiota, in particular Escherichia coli strains of the B2 phylotype, carry the polyketide synthase-island encoding the genotoxin colibactin. Colibactin is a nonribosomal peptide or polyketide-nonribosomal peptide hybrid of still unsolved structure, which induces DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) in eukaryotic cells. However, direct contact between live bacteria and host cell is required in order to elicit these genotoxic effects. In this study, we used a variety of cell culture models, among them, a 3D cell culture approach based on decellularised small intestinal submucosa, to investigate whether the intestinal mucus layer has the potential to interfere with colibactin activity. We demonstrate that the expression of mucins and the formation of an adherent mucus layer significantly increased with increasing complexity of cell culture. Moreover, we show that the presence of an adherent mucus layer on epithelial cells attenuates the genotoxic activity of colibactin, by preventing the induction of DNA-DSBs. Removal of the adherent mucus layer restored the occurrence of DNA-DSBs.

Keywords: 3D cell culture; Escherichia coli Nissle 1917; colibactin; genotoxin; mucin; mucus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Damage / physiology
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Genomic Islands / physiology
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mucus / microbiology*
  • Mutagens / metabolism*
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Polyketides / metabolism*
  • Symbiosis / physiology
  • Virulence / physiology


  • Mutagens
  • Peptides
  • Polyketides
  • colibactin