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Mol Microbiol. 2004 Oct;54(2):337-52.

Co-ordinate single-cell expression of LEE4- and LEE5-encoded proteins of Escherichia coli O157:H7.

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1
Zoonotic and Animal Pathogens Research Laboratory, Medical Microbiology, Teviot Place, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH89AG, UK.

Abstract

Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a zoonotic pathogen that can express a type III secretion system (TTSS) considered important for colonization and persistence in ruminants. E. coli O157:H7 strains have been shown to vary markedly in levels of protein secreted using the TTSS and this study has confirmed that a high secretion phenotype is more prevalent among isolates associated with human disease than isolates shed by healthy cattle. The variation in secretion levels is a consequence of heterogeneous expression, being dependent on the proportion of bacteria in a population that are actively engaged in protein secretion. This was demonstrated by indirect immunofluorescence and eGFP fusions that examined the expression of locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE)-encoded factors in individual bacteria. In liquid media, the expression of EspA, tir::egfp, intimin, but not map::egfp were co-ordinated in a subpopulation of bacteria. In contrast to E. coli O157:H7, expression of tir::egfp in EPEC E2348/69 was equivalent in all bacteria although the same fusion exhibited variable expression when transformed into an E. coli O157:H7 background. An E. coli O157:H7 strain deleted for the LEE demonstrated weak but variable expression of tir::egfp indicating that the elements controlling the heterogeneous expression lie outside the LEE. The research also demonstrated the rapid induction of tir::egfp and map::egfp on contact with bovine epithelial cells. This control in E. coli O157:H7 may be required to limit exposure of key surface antigens, EspA, Tir and intimin during colonization of cattle but allow their rapid production on contact with bovine gastrointestinal epithelium at the terminal rectum.

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