Gene Networks and Pathways Involved in Escherichia coli Response to Multiple Stressors

Microorganisms. 2022 Sep 6;10(9):1793. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms10091793.


Stress response helps microorganisms survive extreme environmental conditions and host immunity, making them more virulent or drug resistant. Although both reductionist approaches investigating specific genes and systems approaches analyzing individual stress conditions are being used, less is known about gene networks involved in multiple stress responses. Here, using a systems biology approach, we mined hundreds of transcriptomic data sets for key genes and pathways involved in the tolerance of the model microorganism Escherichia coli to multiple stressors. Specifically, we investigated the E. coli K-12 MG1655 transcriptome under five stresses: heat, cold, oxidative stress, nitrosative stress, and antibiotic treatment. Overlaps of transcriptional changes between studies of each stress factor and between different stressors were determined: energy-requiring metabolic pathways, transport, and motility are typically downregulated to conserve energy, while genes related to survival, bona fide stress response, biofilm formation, and DNA repair are mainly upregulated. The transcription of 15 genes with uncharacterized functions is higher in response to multiple stressors, which suggests they may play pivotal roles in stress response. In conclusion, using rank normalization of transcriptomic data, we identified a set of E. coli stress response genes and pathways, which could be potential targets to overcome antibiotic tolerance or multidrug resistance.

Keywords: antibiotics; cold shock; gene networks; heat shock; nitrosative stress; oxidative stress; transcriptomics.

Grants and funding

E.K.A. was partly supported by Cairo University graduate student funding, which is limited to supplies.