Conditional function of autoaggregative protein Cah and common cah mutations in Shiga toxinproducing Escherichia coli

Michelle Qiu Carter, Maria T. Brandl, Indira T. Kudva, Robab Katani, Matthew R. Moreau, Vivek Kapur

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14 Scopus citations


Cah is a calcium-binding autotransporter protein involved in autoaggregation and biofilm formation. Although cah is widespread in Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), we detected mutations in cah at a frequency of 31.3% in this pathogen. In STEC O157:H7 supershedder strain SS17, a large deletion results in a smaller coding sequence, encoding a protein lacking the C-terminal 71 amino acids compared with Cah in STEC O157:H7 strain EDL933. We examined the function of Cah in biofilm formation and host colonization to better understand the selective pressures for cah mutations. EDL933-Cah played a conditional role in biofilm formation in vitro: it enhanced E. coli DH5α biofilm formation on glass surfaces under agitated culture conditions that prevented autoaggregation but inhibited biofilm formation under hydrostatic conditions that facilitated autoaggregation. This function appeared to be strain dependent since Cah-mediated biofilm formation was diminished when an EDL933 cah gene was expressed in SS17. Deletion of cah in EDL933 enhanced bacterial attachment to spinach leaves and altered the adherence pattern of EDL933 to bovine recto-anal junction squamous epithelial (RSE) cells. In contrast, in trans expression of EDL933 cah in SS17 increased its attachment to leaf surfaces, and in DH5α, it enhanced its adherence to RSE cells. Hence, the ecological function of Cah appears to be modulated by environmental conditions and other bacterial strain-specific properties. Considering the prevalence of cah in STEC and its role in attachment and biofilm formation, cah mutations might be selected in ecological niches in which inactivation of Cah would result in an increased fitness in STEC during colonization of plants or animal hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01739-17
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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