Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is a zoonotic pathogen responsible for life-threating diseases such as hemolytic uremic syndrome. While its major virulence factor, the Shiga toxin (Stx), is known to exert its cytotoxic effect on various endothelial and epithelial cells when in its free, soluble form, Stx was also recently found to be associated with EHEC outer membrane vesicles (OMVs). However, depending on the strain background, other toxins can also be associated with native OMVs (nOMVs), and nOMVs are also made up of immunomodulatory agents such as lipopolysaccharides and flagellin. Thus, it is difficult to determine to which extent a single virulence factor in nOMVs, such as Stx, contributes to the molecular pathogenesis of EHEC. To reduce this complexity, we successfully developed a protocol for the preparation of synthetic OMVs (sOMVs) with a defined lipid composition resembling the E. coli outer membrane and loaded with specific proteins, i.e., bovine serum albumin (BSA) as a proxy for functional Stx2a. Using BSA for parameter evaluation, we found that (1) functional sOMVs can be prepared at room temperature instead of potentially detrimental higher temperatures (e.g., 45 °C), (2) a 1:10 ratio of protein to lipid, i.e., 100 µg protein with 1 mg of lipid mixture, yields homogenously sized sOMVs, and (3) long-term storage for up to one year at 4 °C is possible without losing structural integrity. Accordingly, we reproducibly generated Stx2a-loaded sOMVs with an average diameter of 132.4 ± 9.6 nm that preserve Stx2a's injuring activity, as determined by cytotoxicity assays with Vero cells. Overall, we successfully created sOMVs and loaded them with an EHEC toxin, which opens the door for future studies on the degree of virulence associated with individual toxins from EHEC and other bacterial pathogens.
Keywords: EHEC; OMV; Stx; liposome; toxin; vesicle.