Pro-inflammatory capacity of Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak strain during colonization of intestinal epithelial cells from human and cattle
In 2011, Germany was struck by the largest outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome. The highly virulent E. coli outbreak strain LB226692 possesses a blended virulence profile combining genetic patterns of human adapted enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC), rarely detected in animal hosts before, and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), a subpopulation of Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing E. coli (STEC) basically adapted to the ruminant host. This study aimed at appraising the relative level of adaptation of the EAEC/EHEC hybrid strain LB226692 to humans and cattle. Adherence and invasion of the hybrid strain to intestinal (jejunal and colonic) epithelial cells (IEC) of human and bovine origin was compared to that of E. coli strains representative of different pathovars and commensal E. coli by means of light and electron microscopy and culture. Strain-specific host gene transcription profiles of selected cytokines and chemokines as well as host-induced transcription of bacterial virulence genes were assessed. The release of Stx upon host cell contact was quantified. The outbreak strain’s immunomodulation was assessed by cultivating primary bovine macrophages with conditioned supernatants from IEC infection studies with E. coli, serving as model for the innate immunity of the bovine gut. The outbreak strain adhered to IEC of both, human and bovine origin. Electron microscopy of infected cells revealed the strain’s particular affinity to human small IEC, in contrast to few interactions with bovine small IEC. The outbreak strain possessed a high-level of adhesive power, similar to human-associated E. coli strains and in contrast to bovine-associated STEC strains. The outbreak strain displayed a non-invasive phenotype, in contrast to some bovine-associated E. coli strains, which were invasive. The outbreak strain provoked some pro-inflammatory activity in human cells, but to a lower extent as compared to other pathotypes. In contrasts to bovine-associated E. coli strains, the outbreak strain induced marked pro-inflammatory activity when interacting with bovine host cells directly (IEC) and indirectly (macrophages). Among stx2-positive strains, the human-pathogenic strains (LB226692 and EHEC strain 86-24) released higher amounts of Stx compared to bovine-associated STEC. The findings imply that the outbreak strain is rather adapted to humans than to cattle. However, the outbreak strain’s potential to colonize IEC of both host species and the rather mixed reaction patterns observed for all strains under study indicate, that even STEC strains with an unusual genotype as the EHEC O104:H4 outbreak strain, i.e. with an EAEC genetic background, may be able to conquer other reservoir hosts.
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