The role of swarm cell differentiation and multicellular migration in the uropathogenicity of Proteus mirabilis

J Infect Dis. 1994 May;169(5):1155-8. doi: 10.1093/infdis/169.5.1155.


The uropathogenic bacterium Proteus mirabilis displays a form of multicellular behavior called swarming, in which typical vegetative rods differentiate into long hyperflagellate swarm cells that undergo rapid and coordinated population migration across surfaces. Such behavior might inherently assist ascending colonization of the urinary tract, and it has also been shown that swarming differentiation in vitro is central to the expression of conventional virulence factors. This study provides support for a role of swarming in vivo. Mortality rates of mice inoculated intravenously with 2.5 x 10(8) vegetative cells were lower than rates for those inoculated with wild type strains in the case of motile transposon mutants either completely unable to swarm (< 1%) or able to undergo only aberrant swarming migration (< 40%, P < .001). Histologic analysis of renal tissues from mice infected by wild type Proteus strains showed that long differentiated cells were the major cell type, whereas the extracellular inflammatory exudate contained primarily short vegetative cells. Following intravesical (bladder) inoculation with 2.0 x 10(7) vegetative cells, kidney infection was not established by any of the three motile swarm-defective mutants; indeed, the nonswarming mutant was not retained in the bladder. In contrast, the wild type strain and a normally swarming but nonhemolytic mutant achieved a high incidence of ascending infection to the kidney.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Proteus Infections / microbiology*
  • Proteus mirabilis / genetics
  • Proteus mirabilis / pathogenicity*
  • Proteus mirabilis / physiology
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Virulence


  • DNA Transposable Elements