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The hallmark of enteropathogenic (EPEC) and enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC) Escherchia coli adhesion to host cells is intimate attachment leading to the formation of distinctive 'attaching and effacing' lesions. This event is mediated, in part, by binding of the bacterial adhesion molecule intimin to a second bacterial protein, Tir, delivered by a type III secretion system into the host cell plasma membrane. The receptor-binding activity of intimin is localized to the C-terminal 280 amino acids (Int280) and at least five distinct intimin types (alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon) have been identified thus far. In addition to binding to Tir, intimin can also bind to a component encoded by the host. The consequence of latter intimin-binding activity may determine tissue tropism and host specificity. In this study we selected three amino acids in intimin, which are implicated in Tir binding, for site-directed mutagenesis. We used the yeast two-hybrid system and gel overlays to study intimin-Tir protein interaction. In addition, the biological consequences of the mutagenesis was tested using a number of infection models (cultured epithelial cells, human intestinal explants and a mouse model). We report that while an I237/897A substitution (positions numbered according to Int280alpha/whole intimin alpha) in intimin alpha did not have any affect on its biological activity, a T255/914A substitution attenuated intimin activity in vivo. In contrast, the mutation V252/911A affected tissue targeting in the human intestinal explant model and attenuated the biological activity of intimin in the mouse model. This study provides the first clues of the molecular basis of how intimin mediates tissue tropism and host specificity.


Journal article


Mol Microbiol

Publication Date





86 - 98


Adhesins, Bacterial, Animals, Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins, Base Sequence, Carrier Proteins, DNA Primers, Escherichia coli Proteins, Female, Humans, Intestines, Mice, Mice, Inbred C3H, Mutagenesis, Site-Directed, Organ Culture Techniques, Protein Conformation, Tropism, Two-Hybrid System Techniques