Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) adhesion to intestinal epithelial cells: role of bundle-forming pili (BFP), EspA filaments and intamin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Jennifer Cleary
  • L-C Lai
  • MS Donnenberg
  • G Frankel

Colleges, School and Institutes


Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC), an important paediatric diarrhoeal pathogen, employs multiple adhesins to colonize the small bowel and produces characteristic 'attaching and effacing' (A/E) lesions on small intestinal enterocytes. EPEC adhesins that have been associated with A/E adhesion and intestinal colonization include bundle-forming pili (BFP), EspA filaments and intimin. BFP are involved in bacteria- bacteria interaction and microcolony formation but their role in cell adhesion remains unclear; EspA filaments are components of the EPEC type III secretion system but since they interact directly with host cells they may also function as adhesins; intimin is the well characterized intimate EPEC adhesin which binds the translocated intimin receptor, Tir. However, other uncharacterized host cell receptors have been implicated in intimin-mediated adhesion. In this study, the role of BFP, EspA filaments and intimin in EPEC adhesion to intestinal brush border cells was assessed by observing adhesion of wild-type EPEC strain E2348/69 and a set of isogenic single, double and triple mutants in bfpA, espA and eae (intimin gene) to differentiated human intestinal Caco-2 cells. E2348/69 (bfpA (+) espA(+) eae(+)) adhered rapidly (<10 min) to the brush border of Caco-2 cells and subsequently produced microcolonies and typical A/E lesions. Non-intimate brush border adhesion of double mutant strain UMD880 (bfpA(+) espA(-) eae(-)) also occurred rapidly, whereas adhesion of strain UMD886 (bfpA(-) espA(+) eae(-)) occurred later in the infection (> 1 h) and with much lower efficiency; confocal microscopy indicated BFP and EspA-mediated adhesion, respectively. Strain UMD883 (bfpA(-) espA(-) eae(+)), which is unable to translocate, Tir, was non-adherent although this strain was able to form intimate attachment and A/E lesions when co-cultured with strain CVD206 (bfpA(+) espA(+) eae(-)) which supplied Tir to the membrane. Single mutant strains CVD206 (bfpA(+) espA(+) eae(-)) and UMD872 (bfpA(+) espA(-) eae(+)) showed adherence characteristics of strain UMD880 (bfpA(+) espA(-) eae(+)), whilst triple mutant strain UMD888 (bfpA(-) espA(-) eae(-)) was totally non-adherent. These results support an adhesive role for BFP and EspA in initial brush border cell attachment, and in typical EPEC which express both BFP and EspA filaments suggest a predominant role for BFP; EspA filaments, however, could serve as initial attachment factors in atypical EPEC which lacks BFP. The study found no evidence for an independent host cell intimin receptor or for other adhesive factors able to support bacterial adherence.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-538
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004