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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Apr;40(1):37-51.

Escherichia coli P fimbriae utilize the Toll-like receptor 4 pathway for cell activation.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Glycobiology, Institute of Laboratory Medicine, Lund University, Sölvegatan 23, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Fimbriae mediate bacterial attachment to host cells and provide a mechanism for tissue attack. They activate a host response by delivery of microbial products such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or through direct fimbriae-dependent signalling mechanisms. By coupling to glycosphingolipid (GSL) receptors, P fimbriae trigger cytokine responses in CD14 negative host cells. Here we show that P fimbriae utilize the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-dependent pathway to trigger mucosal inflammation. Escherichia coli strains expressing P fimbriae as their only virulence factor stimulated chemokine and neutrophil responses in the urinary tract of TLR4 proficient mice, but TLR4 defective mice failed to respond to infection. Mucosal cells were CD14 negative but expressed several TLR species including TLR4, and TLR4 protein was detected. Infection with P fimbriated bacteria stimulated an increase in TLR4 mRNA levels. The activation signal did not involve the LPS-CD14 pathway and was independent of lipid A myristoylation, as shown by mutational inactivation of the msbB gene. Co-staining experiments revealed that TLR4 and the GSL receptors for P fimbriae co-localized in the cell membrane. The results demonstrate that P fimbriae activate epithelial cells by means of a TLR4-dependent signalling pathway, and suggest that GSL receptors for P fimbriae can recruit TLR4 as co-receptors.

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