Transcriptional analysis reveals specific niche factors and response to environmental stresses of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in bovine digestive contents

BMC Microbiol. 2021 Oct 19;21(1):284. doi: 10.1186/s12866-021-02343-7.


Background: Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) are responsible for severe diseases in humans, and the ruminant digestive tract is considered as their main reservoir. Their excretion in bovine feces leads to the contamination of foods and the environment. Thus, providing knowledge of processes used by EHEC to survive and/or develop all along the bovine gut represents a major step for strategies implementation.

Results: We compared the transcriptome of the reference EHEC strain EDL933 incubated in vitro in triplicate samples in sterile bovine rumen, small intestine and rectum contents with that of the strain grown in an artificial medium using RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), focusing on genes involved in stress response, adhesion systems including the LEE, iron uptake, motility and chemotaxis. We also compared expression of these genes in one digestive content relative to the others. In addition, we quantified short chain fatty acids and metal ions present in the three digestive contents. RNA-seq data first highlighted response of EHEC EDL933 to unfavorable physiochemical conditions encountered during its transit through the bovine gut lumen. Seventy-eight genes involved in stress responses including drug export, oxidative stress and acid resistance/pH adaptation were over-expressed in all the digestive contents compared with artificial medium. However, differences in stress fitness gene expression were observed depending on the digestive segment, suggesting that these differences were due to distinct physiochemical conditions in the bovine digestive contents. EHEC activated genes encoding three toxin/antitoxin systems in rumen content and many gene clusters involved in motility and chemotaxis in rectum contents. Genes involved in iron uptake and utilization were mostly down-regulated in all digestive contents compared with artificial medium, but feo genes were over-expressed in rumen and small intestine compared with rectum. The five LEE operons were more expressed in rectum than in rumen content, and LEE1 was also more expressed in rectum than in small intestine content.

Conclusion: Our results highlight various strategies that EHEC may implement to survive in the gastrointestinal environment of cattle. These data could also help defining new targets to limit EHEC O157:H7 carriage and shedding by cattle.

Keywords: Bovine gastrointestinal tract; EHEC; RNAseq; Stress response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't