Biofilm formation in a hydrodynamic environment by novel FimH variants and ramifications for virulence

Mark Schembri, Per Klemm

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Type 1 fimbriae are surface-located adhesion organelles of Escherichia coli that are directly associated with virulence of the urinary tract. They mediate D-mannose-sensitive binding to different host surfaces by way of the minor fimbrial component FimH. Naturally occurring variants of FimH that bind strongly to terminally exposed monomannose residues have been associated with a pathogenicity-adaptive phenotype that enhances E. coli colonization of extraintestinal locations such as the urinary tract. The FimH adhesin also promotes biofilm formation in a mannose-inhibitable manner on abiotic surfaces under static growth conditions. In this study, we used random mutagenesis combined with a novel selection-enrichment technique to specifically identify mutations in the FimH adhesin that confer on E. coli the ability to form biofilms under hydrodynamic flow (HDF) conditions. We identified three FimH variants from our mutant library that could mediate an HDF biofilm formation phenotype to various degrees. This phenotype was induced by the cumulative effect of multiple Changes throughout the receptor binding region of the protein. Two of the HDF biofilm-forming FimH variants were insensitive to mannose inhibition and represent novel phenotypes not previously identified in naturally occurring isolates. Characterization of our enriched clones revealed some similarities to amino acid alterations that occur in urinary tract infection (UTI) strains. Subsequent screening of a selection of UTI FimH variants demonstrated that they too could promote biofilm formation on abiotic surfaces under HDF conditions. Interestingly, the same correlation was not observed for commensal FimH variants. FimH is a multifaceted protein prone to rapid microevolution. In addition to its previously documented roles in adherence and invasion, we have now demonstrated its function in biofilm formation on abiotic surfaces subjected to HDF conditions. The study indicates that UTI FimH variants possess adaptations that enhance biofilm formation and suggests a novel role for FimH in UTIs associated with medical implants such as catheters.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInfection and Immunity
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)1322-1328
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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