Induction of the reactive chlorine-responsive transcription factor RclR in Escherichia coli following ingestion by neutrophils

Pathog Dis. 2021 Jan 9;79(1):ftaa079. doi: 10.1093/femspd/ftaa079.


Neutrophils generate hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and related reactive chlorine species as part of their defence against invading microorganisms. In isolation, bacteria respond to reactive chlorine species by upregulating responses that provide defence against oxidative challenge. Key questions are whether these responses are induced when bacteria are phagocytosed by neutrophils, and whether this provides them with a survival advantage. We investigated RclR, a transcriptional activator of the rclABC operon in Escherichia coli that has been shown to be specifically activated by reactive chlorine species. We first measured induction by individual reactive chlorine species, and showed that HOCl itself activates the response, as do chloramines (products of HOCl reacting with amines) provided they are cell permeable. Strong RclR activation was seen in E. coli following phagocytosis by neutrophils, beginning within 5 min and persisting for 40 min. RclR activation was suppressed by inhibitors of NOX2 and myeloperoxidase, providing strong evidence that it was due to HOCl production in the phagosome. RclR activation demonstrates that HOCl, or a derived chloramine, enters phagocytosed bacteria in sufficient amount to induce this response. Although RclR was induced in wild-type bacteria following phagocytosis, we detected no greater sensitivity to neutrophil killing of mutants lacking genes in the rclABC operon.

Keywords: Escherichia coli; RclR transcription factor; hypochlorous acid; myeloperoxidase; neutrophil; phagocytosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chloramines / pharmacology
  • Chlorine / metabolism*
  • Chlorine / pharmacology
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Humans
  • Hypochlorous Acid / metabolism*
  • Hypochlorous Acid / pharmacology
  • Microbial Viability
  • NADPH Oxidase 2 / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / microbiology
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Peroxidase / metabolism*
  • Phagocytosis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Chloramines
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Chlorine
  • Hypochlorous Acid
  • Peroxidase
  • NADPH Oxidase 2
  • chloramine