Microbiota and intestinal epithelium restrict pathogen growth by rapid nutrient consumption. We investigated how pathogens circumvent this obstacle to colonize the host. Utilizing enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), we show that host-attached bacteria obtain nutrients from infected host cell in a process we termed host nutrient extraction (HNE). We identified an inner-membrane protein complex, henceforth termed CORE, as necessary and sufficient for HNE. The CORE is a key component of the EPEC injectisome, however, here we show that it supports the formation of an alternative structure, composed of membranous nanotubes, protruding from the EPEC surface to directly contact the host. The injectisome and flagellum are evolutionarily related, both containing conserved COREs. Remarkably, CORE complexes of diverse ancestries, including distant flagellar COREs, could rescue HNE capacity of EPEC lacking its native CORE. Our results support the notion that HNE is a widespread virulence strategy, enabling pathogens to thrive in competitive niches.
Keywords: EPEC; T3SS; enteropathogenic E. coli; export apparatus; flagella; host nutrient extraction; host-pathogen interaction; injectisome; nanotubes; type III secretion system.
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