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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Aug;71(8):4872-4.

Escherichia coli K1's capsule is a barrier to bacteriophage T7.

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The National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Building 36, Room 3D20, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Escherichia coli strains that produce the K1 polysaccharide capsule have long been associated with pathogenesis. This capsule is believed to increase the cell's invasiveness, allowing the bacteria to avoid phagocytosis and inactivation by complement. It is also recognized as a receptor by some phages, such as K1F and K1-5, which have virion-associated enzymes that degrade the polysaccharide. In this report we show that expression of the K1 capsule in E. coli physically blocks infection by T7, a phage that recognizes lipopolysaccharide as the primary receptor. Enzymatic removal of the K1 antigen from the cell allows T7 to adsorb and replicate. This observation suggests that the capsule plays an important role as a defense against some phages that recognize structures beneath it and that the K1-specific phages evolved to counter this physical barrier.

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