Molecular characterisation of the vacuolating autotransporter toxin in uropathogenic escherichia coli

Katie B Nichols, Makrina Totsika, Danilo G Moriel, Alvin W Lo, Ji Yang, Daniël J Wurpel, Amanda E Rossiter, Richard A Strugnell, Ian R Henderson, Glen C Ulett, Scott A Beatson, Mark A Schembri

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The vacuolating autotransporter (AT) toxin (Vat) contributes to Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) fitness during systemic infection. Here we characterised Vat and investigated its regulation in UPEC. We assessed the prevalence of vat in a collection of 45 UPEC urosepsis strains and showed that it was present in 31 (68%) of the isolates. The isolates containing the vat gene corresponded to three major E. coli sequence types (ST12, 73 and 95) and these strains secreted the Vat protein. Further analysis of the vat genomic locus identified a conserved gene located directly downstream of vat that encodes a putative MarR-like transcriptional regulator, which we termed vatX. The vat-vatX genes were present in the UPEC reference strain CFT073 and RT-PCR revealed both genes are co-transcribed. Over-expression of vatX in CFT073 led to a 3-fold increase in vat gene transcription. The vat promoter region contained three putative nucleation sites for the global transcriptional regulator H-NS; thus the hns gene was mutated in CFT073 (to generate CFT073hns). Western blot analysis using a Vat-specific antibody revealed a significant increase in Vat expression in CFT073hns compared to wild-type CFT073. Direct H-NS binding to the vat promoter region was demonstrated using purified H-NS in combination with electrophoresis mobility shift assays. Finally, Vat-specific antibodies were detected in plasma samples from urosepsis patients infected by vat-containing UPEC strains, demonstrating Vat is expressed during infection. Overall, this study has demonstrated that Vat is a highly prevalent and tightly regulated immunogenic SPATE secreted by UPEC during infection.

IMPORTANCE: Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) are the major cause of hospital and community acquired urinary tract infections. The Vacuolating autotransporter toxin (Vat) is a cytotoxin known to contribute to UPEC fitness during murine sepsis infection. In this study, Vat was found to be highly conserved and prevalent among a collection of urosepsis clinical isolates, and expressed at human core body temperature. Regulation of vat was demonstrated to be directly repressed by the global transcriptional regulator H-NS and upregulated by the downstream gene vatX (a new MarR-type transcriptional regulator). Additionally, increased Vat-specific IgG titres were detected in plasma from corresponding urosepsis patients infected with vat-positive isolates. Hence, Vat is a highly conserved and tightly regulated urosepsis-associated virulence factor.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2016


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