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Infect Immun. 1994 Jul;62(7):2998-3003.

Unique ability of the Proteus mirabilis capsule to enhance mineral growth in infectious urinary calculi.

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Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Struvite (MgNH4PO4.6H2O) calculi are a common complication of Proteus mirabilis urinary tract infections. Although urease is a major virulence factor in calculus formation, the polysaccharide capsule (CPS) of this organism also enhances struvite crystallization and growth in vitro (L. Clapham, R. J. C. McLean, J. C. Nickel, J. Downey, and J. W. Costerton, J. Crystal Growth 104:475-484, 1990). We obtained purified CPS, of known structure and varying anionic character, from P. mirabilis ATCC 49565 and several other organisms. Artificial urine was added to CPS, and the pH was elevated from 5.8 to 8.5 by the addition of urease or titration with 0.25 M NH4OH to induce struvite crystallization. Crystallization was measured by particle counting (Coulter counter), and the morphology (crystal habit) was examined by phase-contrast microscopy. In the presence of partially anionic P. mirabilis CPS, struvite formation occurred at a lower pH than in the absence of CPS or in the presence of other neutral, partially anionic, or anionic CPS. At pH 7.5 to 8.0, significantly more struvite crystals formed in the presence of P. mirabilis CPS than under other experimental conditions. With the exception of one polymer (curdlan) which did not bind Mg2+, enhancement of struvite formation by CPS polymers was inversely proportional to their Mg2+ binding ability. We speculate that the structure and partial anionic nature of P. mirabilis CPS enable it to enhance struvite formation by weakly concentrating Mg2+ ions during struvite crystal formation. This illustrates a new virulence aspect of bacterial CPS during infection.

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