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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Apr;48(1):95-115.

Citrobacter rodentium translocated intimin receptor (Tir) is an essential virulence factor needed for actin condensation, intestinal colonization and colonic hyperplasia in mice.

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Biotechnology Laboratory, University of British Columbia, Room 237 Wesbrook Building, 6174 University Boulevard, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada.


Citrobacter rodentium infection of mice serves as a relevant small animal model to study enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) and enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) infections in man. Enteropathogenic E. coli and EHEC translocate Tir into the host cytoplasmic membrane, where it serves as the receptor for the bacterial adhesin intimin and plays a central role in actin condensation beneath the adherent bacterium. In this report, we examined the function of C. rodentium Tir both in vitro and in vivo. Similar to EPEC, C. rodentium Tir is tyrosine phosphorylated and is essential for actin condensation. Citrobacter Tir and EPEC Tir are functionally interchangeable and both require tyrosine phosphorylation to mediate actin rearrangements. In contrast, Citrobacter Tir supports actin nucleation in EHEC independent of tyrosine phosphorylation, while EHEC Tir cannot replace Citrobacter Tir for this function. This indicates that C. rodentium and EPEC use an actin nucleating mechanism different from EHEC. We also found that Tir is expressed and translocated into mouse enterocytes in vivo by C. rodentium during infections. This represents the first direct demonstration of a type III effector translocated in vivo into a natural host by any pathogen. In addition, we showed that Tir, but not its tyrosine phosphorylation, is essential for C. rodentium to colonize the large bowel and induce attaching/effacing (A/E) lesions and colonic hyperplasia in mice, and that both EPEC Tir and EHEC Tir can substitute for Citrobacter Tir for these activities in vivo. These results thus demonstrate that Tir is an essential virulence factor in this infection model. The data also show that the function of Tir tyrosine phosphorylation and its subsequent actin nucleating activity are not essential for C. rodentium colonization of the mouse gut nor for inducing A/E lesions and colonic hyperplasia, thereby uncoupling colonization and disease from actin condensation for this A/E pathogen.

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