Escherichia coli and other Enterobacteriaceae are among the most common pathogens of the human urinary tract. Among the genetic gains of function associated with urinary E. coli isolates is the Yersinia high pathogenicity island (HPI), which directs the biosynthesis of yersiniabactin (Ybt), a virulence-associated metallophore. Using a metabolomics approach, we found that E. coli and other Enterobacteriaceae expressing the Yersinia HPI also secrete escherichelin, a second metallophore whose chemical structure matches a known synthetic inhibitor of the virulence-associated pyochelin siderophore system in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We detected escherichelin during clinical E. coli urinary tract infection (UTI) and experimental human colonization with a commensal, potentially probiotic E. coli bacteriuria strain. Escherichelin production by colonizing enterobacteria may help human hosts resist opportunistic infections by Pseudomonas and other pyochelin-expressing bacteria. This siderophore-based mechanism of microbial antagonism may be one of many elements contributing to the protective effects of the human microbiome. Future UTI-preventive probiotic strains may benefit by retaining the escherichelin biosynthetic capacity of the Yersinia HPI while eliminating the Ybt biosynthetic capacity.


Shannon I. Ohlemacher, Daryl E. Giblin, D. André d’Avignon, Ann E. Stapleton, Barbara W. Trautner, Jeffrey P. Henderson


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