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Clin Microbiol Rev. Jan 1991; 4(1): 80–128.
PMCID: PMC358180

Virulence factors in Escherichia coli urinary tract infection.

Abstract

Uropathogenic strains of Escherichia coli are characterized by the expression of distinctive bacterial properties, products, or structures referred to as virulence factors because they help the organism overcome host defenses and colonize or invade the urinary tract. Virulence factors of recognized importance in the pathogenesis of urinary tract infection (UTI) include adhesins (P fimbriae, certain other mannose-resistant adhesins, and type 1 fimbriae), the aerobactin system, hemolysin, K capsule, and resistance to serum killing. This review summarizes the virtual explosion of information regarding the epidemiology, biochemistry, mechanisms of action, and genetic basis of these urovirulence factors that has occurred in the past decade and identifies areas in need of further study. Virulence factor expression is more common among certain genetically related groups of E. coli which constitute virulent clones within the larger E. coli population. In general, the more virulence factors a strain expresses, the more severe an infection it is able to cause. Certain virulence factors specifically favor the development of pyelonephritis, others favor cystitis, and others favor asymptomatic bacteriuria. The currently defined virulence factors clearly contribute to the virulence of wild-type strains but are usually insufficient in themselves to transform an avirulent organism into a pathogen, demonstrating that other as-yet-undefined virulence properties await discovery. Virulence factor testing is a useful epidemiological and research tool but as yet has no defined clinical role. Immunological and biochemical anti-virulence factor interventions are effective in animal models of UTI and hold promise for the prevention of UTI in humans.

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Selected References

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