A renewed interest in Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains was sparked due to the appearance of an outbreak in 2011, causing 3,816 diarrheal cases and some deaths in Europe. The causative strain was classified as enteroaggregative E. coli of serotype O104:H4 that had acquired Shiga toxin genes. The ability of STEC O104:H4 to cause disease relies greatly on the bacteria's capacity to colonize, persist, and produce Shiga toxin. However, not much is known about the colonization factors of this strain. Because long polar fimbriae (lpf) lpf1 and lpf2 operons encode important colonization factors in other STEC isolates and E. coli O104:H4 possesses both loci, we hypothesized that Lpf is required for adhesion and colonization. In this study, isogenic lpfA1 and lpfA2 major fimbrial subunit mutants were constructed. To determine their role in O104:H4's virulence, we assessed their ability to adhere to non-polarized and polarized intestinal epithelial cells. The ΔlpfA1 showed decreased adherence in both cell systems, while the ΔlpfA2 only showed a decrease in adherence to polarized Caco-2 cells. We also tested the O104:H4 mutants' ability to form biofilm and found that the ΔlpfA1 was unable to form a stable biofilm. In an in vivo murine model of intestinal colonization, the ΔlpfA1 had a reduced ability to colonize the cecum and large intestine, consistent with the in vitro data. Further, we tested the lpfA1 mutants' ability to compete against the wild type. We found that in the in vitro and in vivo models, the presence of the wild type O104:H4 facilitates increased adherence of the ΔlpfA1 to levels exceeding that of the wild type. Overall, our data demonstrated that Lpf1 is one of the factors responsible for O104:H4 intestinal adhesion and colonization.
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