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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1996 Sep;62(9):3094-100.

Mechanisms of acid resistance in enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Mobile 36688, USA.


Enterohemorrhagic strains of Escherichia coli must pass through the acidic gastric barrier to cause gastrointestinal disease. Taking into account the apparent low infectious dose of enterohemorrhagic E. coli, 11 O157:H7 strains and 4 commensal strains of E. coli were tested for their abilities to survive extreme acid exposures (pH 3). Three previously characterized acid resistance systems were tested. These included an acid-induced oxidative system, an acid-induced arginine-dependent system, and a glutamate-dependent system. When challenged at pH 2.0, the arginine-dependent system provided more protection in the EHEC strains than in commensal strains. However, the glutamate-dependent system provided better protection than the arginine system and appeared equally effective in all strains. Because E. coli must also endure acid stress imposed by the presence of weak acids in intestinal contents at a pH less acidic than that of the stomach, the ability of specific acid resistance systems to protect against weak acids was examined. The arginine- and glutamate-dependent systems were both effective in protecting E. coli against the bactericidal effects of a variety of weak acids. The acids tested include benzoic acid (20 mM; pH 4.0) and a volatile fatty acid cocktail composed of acetic, propionic, and butyric acids at levels approximating those present in the intestine. The oxidative system was much less effective. Several genetic aspects of E. coli acid resistance were also characterized. The alternate sigma factor RpoS was shown to be required for oxidative acid resistance but was only partially involved with the arginine- and glutamate-dependent acid resistance systems. The arginine decarboxylase system (including adi and its regulators cysB and adiY) was responsible for arginine-dependent acid resistance. The results suggest that several acid resistance systems potentially contribute to the survival of pathogenic E. coli in the different acid stress environments of the stomach (pH 1 to 3) and the intestine (pH 4.5 to 7 with high concentrations of volatile fatty acids). Of particular importance to the food industry was the finding that once induced, the acid resistance systems will remain active for prolonged periods of cold storage at 4 degrees C.

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