Enterotoxigenic E. coli virulence gene regulation in human infections
Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is a global diarrheal pathogen that utilizes adhesins and secreted enterotoxins to cause disease in mammalian hosts. Decades of research on virulence factor regulation in ETEC has revealed a variety of environmental factors that influence gene expression, including bile, pH, bicarbonate, osmolarity, and glucose. However, other hallmarks of the intestinal tract, such as low oxygen availability, have not been examined. Further, determining how ETEC integrates these signals in the complex host environment is challenging. To address this, we characterized ETEC’s response to the human host using samples from a controlled human infection model. We found ETEC senses environmental oxygen to globally influence virulence factor expression via the oxygen-sensitive transcriptional regulator fumarate and nitrate reduction (FNR) regulator.