Background. Diarrheal disease from enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) causes significant worldwide morbidity and mortality in young children residing in endemic countries and is the leading cause of traveler’s diarrhea. As ETEC enters the body through the oral cavity and cotransits the digestive tract with salivary components, we hypothesized that the antimicrobial activity of salivary proteins might extend beyond the oropharynx into the proximal digestive tract. Results. Here, we show that the salivary peptide histatin-5 binds colonization factor antigen I pili, thereby blocking adhesion of ETEC to intestinal epithelial cells. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that histatin-5 stiffens the typically dynamic pili, abolishing their ability to function as spring-like shock absorbers, thereby inhibiting colonization within the turbulent vortices of chyme in the gastrointestinal tract. Conclusions. Our data represent the first report of a salivary component exerting specific antimicrobial activity against an enteric pathogen and suggest that histatin-5 and related peptides might be exploited for prophylactic and/or therapeutic uses. Numerous viruses, bacteria, and fungi traverse the oropharynx to cause disease, so there is considerable opportunity for various salivary components to neutralize these pathogens prior to arrival at their target organ. Identification of additional salivary components with unexpectedly broad antimicrobial spectra should be a priority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1435-1441
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Adhesion pili
  • Enteric pathogen
  • Innate immunity
  • Salivary peptide
  • Traveler’s diarrhea


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