Fighting Fire with Fire: Phage Potential for the Treatment of E. coli O157 Infection

Antibiotics (Basel). 2018 Nov 16;7(4):101. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics7040101.


Hemolytic⁻uremic syndrome is a life-threating disease most often associated with Shiga toxin-producing microorganisms like Escherichia coli (STEC), including E. coli O157:H7. Shiga toxin is encoded by resident prophages present within this bacterium, and both its production and release depend on the induction of Shiga toxin-encoding prophages. Consequently, treatment of STEC infections tend to be largely supportive rather than antibacterial, in part due to concerns about exacerbating such prophage induction. Here we explore STEC O157:H7 prophage induction in vitro as it pertains to phage therapy-the application of bacteriophages as antibacterial agents to treat bacterial infections-to curtail prophage induction events, while also reducing STEC O157:H7 presence. We observed that cultures treated with strictly lytic phages, despite being lysed, produce substantially fewer Shiga toxin-encoding temperate-phage virions than untreated STEC controls. We therefore suggest that phage therapy could have utility as a prophylactic treatment of individuals suspected of having been recently exposed to STEC, especially if prophage induction and by extension Shiga toxin production is not exacerbated.

Keywords: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria; bacteriophage therapy; lysogenic conversion; phage therapy; prophage induction; read recruitment; shiga toxin.