Fimbriae reprogram host gene expression – Divergent effects of P and type 1 fimbriae

Ines Ambite, Daniel S.C. Butler, Christoph Stork, Jenny Grönberg-Hernández, Bela Köves, Jaroslaw Zdziarski, Jerome Pinknerid, Scott J. Hultgren, Ulrich Dobrindtid, Björn Wullt, Catharina Svanborg

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Pathogens rely on a complex virulence gene repertoire to successfully attack their hosts. We were therefore surprised to find that a single fimbrial gene reconstitution can return the viru-lence-attenuated commensal strain Escherichia coli 83972 to virulence, defined by a disease phenotype in human hosts. E. coli 83972pap stably reprogrammed host gene expression, by activating an acute pyelonephritis-associated, IRF7-dependent gene network. The PapG protein was internalized by human kidney cells and served as a transcriptional agonist of IRF-7, IFN-β and MYC, suggesting direct involvement of the fimbrial adhesin in this process. IRF-7 was further identified as a potent upstream regulator (-log (p-value) = 61), consistent with the effects in inoculated patients. In contrast, E. coli 83972fim transiently attenuated overall gene expression in human hosts, enhancing the effects of E. coli 83972. The inhibition of RNA processing and ribosomal assembly indicated a homeostatic rather than a pathogenic end-point. In parallel, the expression of specific ion channels and neuropeptide gene networks was transiently enhanced, in a FimH-dependent manner. The studies were performed to establish protective asymptomatic bacteriuria in human hosts and the reconstituted E. coli 83972 variants were developed to improve bacterial fitness for the human urinary tract. Unexpectedly, P fimbriae were able to drive a disease response, suggesting that like oncogene addiction in cancer, pathogens may be addicted to single super-virulence factors.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1007671
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


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