The Cu(II) Reductase RclA Protects Escherichia coli against the Combination of Hypochlorous Acid and Intracellular Copper

mBio. 2020 Sep 29;11(5):e01905-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01905-20.


Enterobacteria, including Escherichia coli, bloom to high levels in the gut during inflammation and strongly contribute to the pathology of inflammatory bowel diseases. To survive in the inflamed gut, E. coli must tolerate high levels of antimicrobial compounds produced by the immune system, including toxic metals like copper and reactive chlorine oxidants such as hypochlorous acid (HOCl). Here, we show that extracellular copper is a potent detoxifier of HOCl and that the widely conserved bacterial HOCl resistance enzyme RclA, which catalyzes the reduction of copper(II) to copper(I), specifically protects E. coli against damage caused by the combination of HOCl and intracellular copper. E. coli lacking RclA was highly sensitive to HOCl when grown in the presence of copper and was defective in colonizing an animal host. Our results indicate that there is unexpected complexity in the interactions between antimicrobial toxins produced by innate immune cells and that bacterial copper status is a key determinant of HOCl resistance and suggest an important and previously unsuspected role for copper redox reactions during inflammation.IMPORTANCE During infection and inflammation, the innate immune system uses antimicrobial compounds to control bacterial populations. These include toxic metals, like copper, and reactive oxidants, including hypochlorous acid (HOCl). We have now found that RclA, a copper(II) reductase strongly induced by HOCl in proinflammatory Escherichia coli and found in many bacteria inhabiting epithelial surfaces, is required for bacteria to resist killing by the combination of intracellular copper and HOCl and plays an important role in colonization of an animal host. This finding indicates that copper redox chemistry plays a critical and previously underappreciated role in bacterial interactions with the innate immune system.

Keywords: copper; hypochlorous acid; oxidative stress; reactive chlorine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Copper / pharmacology*
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Cytoplasm / drug effects
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Hypochlorous Acid / pharmacology*
  • Oxidants / pharmacology
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism*


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Oxidants
  • Hypochlorous Acid
  • Copper
  • Oxidoreductases
  • cupric chloride