Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC), the primary etiologic agent of urinary tract infections (UTIs), encounters a restrictive population bottleneck within the female mammalian bladder. Its genetic diversity is restricted during establishment of cystitis because successful UPEC must invade superficial bladder epithelial cells prior to forming clonal intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs). In this study, we aimed to understand UPEC population dynamics during ascending pyelonephritis, namely, formation of kidney bacterial communities (KBCs) in the renal tubular lumen and nucleation of renal abscesses. We inoculated the bladders of both male and female C3H/HeN mice, a background which features vesicoureteral reflux; we have previously shown that in this model, males develop severe, high-titer pyelonephritis and renal abscesses much more frequently than females. Mice were infected with 40 isogenic, PCR-tagged (“barcoded”) UPEC strains, and tags remaining in bladder and kidneys were ascertained at intervals following infection. In contrast to females, males maintained a majority of strains within both the bladder and kidneys throughout the course of infection, indicating only a modest host-imposed bottleneck on overall population diversity during successful renal infection. Moreover, the diverse population in the infected male kidneys obscured any restrictive bottleneck in the male bladder. Finally, using RNA in situ hybridization following mixed infections with isogenic UPEC bearing distinct markers, we found that despite their extracellular location (in the urinary space), KBCs are clonal in origin. This finding indicates that even with bulk reflux of infected bladder urine into the renal pelvis, successful ascension of UPEC to establish the tubular niche is an uncommon event.
- Escherichia coli
- Urinary tract infection