Siderophores are iron chelators used by microbes to bind and acquire iron, which, once in the cell, inhibits siderophore production through feedback repression mediated by the ferric uptake repressor (Fur). Yersiniabactin (Ybt), a siderophore associated with enhanced pathogenic potential among Enterobacteriaceae, also binds copper ions during human and experimental murine infections. In contrast to iron, we found that extracellular copper ions rapidly and selectively stimulate Ybt production in extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli. The stimulatory pathway requires formation of an extracellular copper-Ybt (Cu(II)-Ybt) complex, internalization of Cu(II)-Ybt entry through the canonical TonB-dependent outer membrane transporter, and Fur-independent transcriptional regulation by the specialized transcription factor YbtA. Dual regulation by iron and copper is consistent with a multifunctional metallophore role for Ybt. Feed-forward regulation is typical of stress responses, implicating Ybt in prevention of, or response to, copper stress during infection pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE Interactions between bacteria and transition metal ions play an important role in encounters between humans and bacteria. Siderophore systems have long been prominent mediators of these interactions. These systems secrete small-molecule chelators that bind oxidized iron(III) and express proteins that specifically recognize and import these complexes as a nutritional iron source. While E. coli and other Enterobacteriaceae secrete enterobactin, clinical isolates often secrete an additional siderophore, yersiniabactin (Ybt), which has been found to also bind copper and other non-iron metal ions. The observation here that an extraintestinal E. coli isolate secretes Ybt in a copper-inducible manner suggests an important gain of function over the enterobactin system. Copper recognition involves using Ybt to bind Cu(II) ions, consistent with a distinctively extracellular mode of copper detection. The resulting Cu (II)-Ybt complex signals upregulation of Ybt biosynthesis genes as a rapid response against potentially toxic extracellular copper ions. The Ybt system is distinguishable from other copper response systems that sense cytosolic and periplasmic copper ions. The Ybt dependence of the copper response presents an implicit feed-forward regulatory scheme that is typical of bacterial stress responses. The distinctive extracellular copper recognition-response functionality of the Ybt system may enhance the pathogenic potential of infection-associated Enterobacteriaceae.
- Escherichia coli