Enterococcus faecalis enhances expression and activity of the enterohemorrhagic escherichia coli type III secretion system

Elizabeth A. Cameron, Vanessa Sperandio, Gary M. Dunny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The gut microbiota can significantly impact invading pathogens and the disease they cause; however, many of the mechanisms that dictate commensalpathogen interactions remain unclear. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is a potentially lethal human intestinal pathogen that uses microbiota-derived molecules as cues to efficiently regulate virulence factor expression. Here, we investigate the interaction between EHEC and Enterococcus faecalis, a common human gut commensal, and show that E. faecalis affects both expression and activity of the EHEC type III secretion system (T3SS) via two distinct mechanisms. First, in the presence of E. faecalis there is increased transcription of genes encoding the EHEC T3SS. This leads to increased effector translocation and ultimately greater numbers of pedestals formed on host cells. The same effect was observed with several strains of enterococci, suggesting that it is a general characteristic of this group. In a mechanism separate from E. faecalis-induced transcription of the T3SS, we report that an E. faecalis-secreted protease, GelE, cleaves a critical structural component of the EHEC T3SS, EspB. Our data suggest that this cleavage actually increases effector translocation by the T3SS, supporting a model where EspB proteolysis promotes maximum T3SS activity. Finally, we report that treatment of EHEC with E. faecalis-conditioned cell-free medium is insufficient to induce increased T3SS expression, suggesting that this effect relies on cell contact between E. faecalis and EHEC. This work demonstrates a complex interaction between a human commensal and pathogen that impacts both expression and function of a critical virulence factor. IMPORTANCE This work reveals a complex and multifaceted interaction between a human gut commensal, Enterococcus faecalis, and a pathogen, enterohemorrhagic E. coli. We demonstrate that E. faecalis enhances expression of the enterohemorrhagic E. coli type III secretion system and that this effect likely depends on cell contact between the commensal and the pathogen. Additionally, the GelE protease secreted by E. faecalis cleaves a critical structural component of the EHEC type III secretion system. In agreement with previous studies, we find that this cleavage actually increases effector protein delivery into host cells by the secretion system. This work demonstrates that commensal bacteria can significantly shape expression and activity of pathogen virulence factors, which may ultimately shape the progression of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02547-19
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH grants R35GM118079 and R01AI122742 to G.M.D. and R37AI053067, R56AI05135, R01AI077613, and R01AI114511 to V.S. E.A.C. was supported by NRSA fellowship F32AI126722.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Cameron et al.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Bacterial communication
  • Commensal pathogen interaction
  • EHEC
  • Gut microbiome
  • Virulence regulation


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