Peptidoglycan Sensing Prevents Quiescence and Promotes Quorum-Independent Colony Growth of Uropathogenic Escherichia coli

J Bacteriol. 2020 Sep 23;202(20):e00157-20. doi: 10.1128/JB.00157-20. Print 2020 Sep 23.


Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the leading cause of human urinary tract infections (UTIs), and many patients experience recurrent infection after successful antibiotic treatment. The source of recurrent infections may be persistent bacterial reservoirs in vivo that are in a quiescent state and thus are not susceptible to antibiotics. Here, we show that multiple UPEC strains require a quorum to proliferate in vitro with glucose as the carbon source. At low cell density, the bacteria remain viable but enter a quiescent, nonproliferative state. Of the clinical UPEC isolates tested to date, 35% (51/145) enter this quiescent state, including isolates from the recently emerged, multidrug-resistant pandemic lineage ST131 (i.e., strain JJ1886) and isolates from the classic endemic lineage ST73 (i.e., strain CFT073). Moreover, quorum-dependent UPEC quiescence is prevented and reversed by small-molecule proliferants that stimulate colony formation. These proliferation cues include d-amino acid-containing peptidoglycan (PG) tetra- and pentapeptides, as well as high local concentrations of l-lysine and l-methionine. Peptidoglycan fragments originate from the peptidoglycan layer that supports the bacterial cell wall but are released as bacteria grow. These fragments are detected by a variety of organisms, including human cells, other diverse bacteria, and, as we show here for the first time, UPEC. Together, these results show that for UPEC, (i) sensing of PG stem peptide and uptake of l-lysine modulate the quorum-regulated decision to proliferate and (ii) quiescence can be prevented by both intra- and interspecies PG peptide signaling.IMPORTANCE Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the leading cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs). During pathogenesis, UPEC cells adhere to and infiltrate bladder epithelial cells, where they may form intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs) or enter a nongrowing or slowly growing quiescent state. Here, we show in vitro that UPEC strains at low population density enter a reversible, quiescent state by halting division. Quiescent cells resume proliferation in response to sensing a quorum and detecting external signals, or cues, including peptidoglycan tetra- and pentapeptides.

Keywords: cue; dormancy; pentapeptide; peptidoglycan; proliferant; quiescence; quorum; signal; tetrapeptide; uropathogenic Escherichia coli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Division
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Peptidoglycan / metabolism*
  • Quorum Sensing
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / growth & development*
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Peptidoglycan