Journal of bacteriology

Oxygen-limiting conditions enrich for fimbriate cells of uropathogenic Proteus mirabilis and Escherichia coli.

PMID 19114498


MR/P fimbriae of uropathogenic Proteus mirabilis undergo invertible element-mediated phase variation whereby an individual bacterium switches between expressing fimbriae (phase ON) and not expressing fimbriae (phase OFF). Under different conditions, the percentage of fimbriate bacteria within a population varies and could be dictated by either selection (growth advantage of one phase) or signaling (preferentially converting one phase to the other in response to external signals). Expression of MR/P fimbriae increases in a cell-density dependent manner in vitro and in vivo. However, rather than the increased cell density itself, this increase in fimbrial expression is due to an enrichment of fimbriate bacteria under oxygen limitation resulting from increased cell density. Our data also indicate that the persistence of MR/P fimbriate bacteria under oxygen-limiting conditions is a result of both selection (of MR/P fimbrial phase variants) and signaling (via modulation of expression of the MrpI recombinase). Furthermore, the mrpJ transcriptional regulator encoded within the mrp operon contributes to phase switching. Type 1 fimbriae of Escherichia coli, which are likewise subject to phase variation via an invertible element, also increase in expression during reduced oxygenation. These findings provide evidence to support a mechanism for persistence of fimbriate bacteria under oxygen limitation, which is relevant to disease progression within the oxygen-restricted urinary tract.

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