The role of metabolism in the pathogenesis of adherent invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC)

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Thompson, Aoife
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University College Cork
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Crohn’s disease (CD) is a chronic, relapsing inflammatory condition affecting the gastrointestinal tract of humans, of which there is currently no cure. The precise etiology of CD is unknown, although it has become widely accepted that it is a multifactorial disease which occurs as a result of an abnormal immune response to commensal enteric bacteria in a genetically susceptible host. Recent studies have shown that a new group of Escherichia coli, called Adherent Invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC) are present in the guts of CD patients at a higher frequency than in healthy subjects, suggesting that they may play a role in the initiation and/or maintenance of the inflammation associated with CD. Two phenotypes define an AIEC and differentiate them from other groups of E. coli. Firstly, AIEC can adhere to and invade epithelial cells; and secondly, they can replicate in macrophages. In this study, we use a strain of AIEC which has been isolated from the colonic mucosa of a CD patient, called HM605, to examine the relationship between AIEC and the macrophage. We show, using a systematic mutational approach, that while the Tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the glyoxylate pathway, the Entner-Doudoroff (ED) pathway, the Pentose Phosphate (PP) pathway and gluconeogenesis are dispensable for the intramacrophagic growth of HM605, glycolysis is an absolute requirement for the ability of this organism to replicate intracellularly. We also show that HM605 activates the inflammasome, a major driver of inflammation in mammals. Specifically, we show that macrophages infected with HM605 produce significantly higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β than macrophages infected with a non-AIEC strain, and we show by immunoblotting that this is due to cleavage of caspase-1. We also show that macrophages infected with HM605 exhibit significantly higher levels of pyroptosis, a form of inflammatory cell death, than macrophages infected with a non-AIEC strain. Therefore, AIEC strains are more pro-inflammatory than non-AIEC strains and this may have important consequences in terms of CD pathology. Moreover, we show that while inflammasome activation by HM605 is independent of intracellular bacterial replication, it is dependent on an active bacterial metabolism. Through the establishment of a genetic screen aimed at identifying mutants which activate the inflammasome to lower levels than the wild-type, we confirm our observation that bacterial metabolism is essential for successful inflammasome activation by HM605 and we also uncover new systems/structures that may be important for inflammasome activation, such as the BasS/BasR two-component system, a type VI secretion system and a K1 capsule. Finally, in this study, we also identify a putative small RNA in AIEC strain LF82, which may be involved in modulating the motility of this strain. Overall this works shows that, in the absence of specialised virulence factors, the ability of AIEC to metabolise within the host cell may be a key determinant of its pathogenesis.
Bacterial metabolism
Thompson, A. 2013. The role of metabolism in the pathogenesis of adherent invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC). PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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