U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Infection and Immunity (2001), 69(6), p. 3954-3964. DOI: 10.1128/IAI.69.6.3954–3964.2001


Cytotoxic necrotizing factor type 1 (CNF1) is a 115-kDa toxin that activates Rho GTPases and is produced by uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC). While both epidemiological studies that link CNF1 production by E. coli with urinary tract disease and the cytopathic effects of CNF1 on cultured urinary tract cells are suggestive of a role for the toxin as a UPEC virulence factor, few in vivo studies to test this possibility have been reported. Therefore, in this investigation, we evaluated the importance of CNF1 in a murine model of urinary tract infection (UTI) by comparing the degree of colonization and damage induced by three different CNF1- producing E. coli strains with isogenic CNF1-deficient derivatives. The data from single-strain challenge experiments with C3H/HeOuJ mice indicated a trend toward higher counts of the wild-type strains in the urine and bladders of these animals up to 3 days after challenge in two of three strain pairs. Furthermore, this difference was statistically significant at day 2 of infection with one strain pair, C189 and C189cnf1. To control for the animal-to-animal variability inherent in this model, we infected C3H/HeOuJ mice with a mixture of CNF1-positive and -negative isogenic derivatives of CP9. The CNF1-positive strain was recovered in higher numbers than the CNF1-negative strain in the urine, bladders, and kidneys of the mice up to 9 days postinfection. These striking coinfection findings, taken with the trends observed in single-strain infections, led us to conclude that CNF1-negative strains were generally attenuated compared to the wild type in the C3H/HeOuJ mouse model of UTI. Furthermore, histopathological examination of bladder specimens from mice infected with CNF1-positive strains consistently showed deeper, more extensive inflammation than in those infected with the isogenic mutants. Lastly, we found that CNF1-positive strain CP9 was better able to resist killing by fresh human neutrophils than were CP9cnf1 bacteria. From these data in aggregate, we propose that CNF1 production increases the capacity of UPEC strains to resist killing by neutrophils, which in turn permits these bacteria to gain access to deeper tissue and persist better in the lower urinary tract.