Copper plays a dual role as a nutrient and a toxin during bacterial infections. While uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) strains can use the copper-binding metallophore yersiniabactin (Ybt) to resist copper toxicity, Ybt also converts bioavailable copper to Cu(II)-Ybt in low-copper conditions. Although E. coli have long been considered to lack a copper import pathway, we observed Ybt-mediated copper import in UPEC using canonical Fe(III)-Ybt transport proteins. UPEC removed copper from Cu(II)-Ybt with subsequent re-export of metal-free Ybt to the extracellular space. Copper released through this process became available to an E. coli cuproenzyme (the amine oxidase TynA), linking this import pathway to a nutrient acquisition function. Ybt-expressing E. coli thus engage in nutritional passivation, a strategy of minimizing a metal ion's toxicity while preserving its nutritional availability. Copper acquisition through this process may contribute to the marked virulence defect of Ybt-transport-deficient UPEC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1016-1021
Number of pages6
JournalNature Chemical Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


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