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Infect Immun. 2012 Feb;80(2):688-703. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05921-11. Epub 2011 Dec 5.

Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli virulence regulation by two bacterial adrenergic kinases, QseC and QseE.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Dallas, Texas, USA.


The human pathogen enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O157:H7 has two histidine sensor kinases, QseC and QseE, which respond to the mammalian adrenergic hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine by increasing their autophosphorylation. Although QseC and QseE are present in nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, EHEC exploits these kinases for virulence regulation. To further investigate the full extent of epinephrine and its sensors' impact on EHEC virulence, we performed transcriptomic and phenotypic analyses of single and double deletions of qseC and qseE genes in the absence or presence of epinephrine. We showed that in EHEC, epinephrine sensing seems to occur primarily through QseC and QseE. We also observed that QseC and QseE regulate expression of the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) genes positively and negatively, respectively. LEE activation, which is required for the formation of the characteristic attaching and effacing (A/E) lesions by EHEC on epithelial cells, is epinephrine dependent. Regulation of the LEE and the non-LEE-contained virulence factor gene nleA by QseE is indirect, through transcription inhibition of the RcsB response regulator. Finally, we show that coincubation of HeLa cells with epinephrine increases EHEC infectivity in a QseC- and QseE-dependent manner. These results genetically and phenotypically map the contributions of the two adrenergic sensors QseC and QseE to EHEC pathogenesis.

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