Formate Metabolism in Shigella flexneri and Its Effect on HeLa Cells at Different Stages during the Infectious Process

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Shigellosis caused by Shigella is one of the most important foodborne illnesses in global health, but little is known about the metabolic cross talk between this bacterial pathogen and its host cells during the different stages of the infection process. A detailed understanding of the metabolism can potentially lead to new drug targets remedying the pressing problem of antibiotic resistance. Here, we use stable isotope-resolved metabolomics as an unbiased and fast method to investigate how Shigella metabolizes 13C-glucose in three different environments: inside the host cells, adhering to the host cells, and alone in suspension. We find that especially formate metabolism by bacteria is sensitive to these different environments. The role of formate in pathogen metabolism is sparsely described in the literature compared to the roles of acetate and butyrate. However, its metabolic pathway is regarded as a potential drug target due to its production in microorganisms and its absence in humans. Our study provides new knowledge about the regulatory effect of formate. Bacterial metabolism of formate is pH dependent when studied alone in culture medium, whereas this effect is less pronounced when the bacteria adhere to the host cells. Once the bacteria are inside the host cells, we find that formate accumulation is reduced. Formate also affects the host cells resulting in a reduced infection rate. This was correlated to an increased immune response. Thus, intriguingly formate plays a double role in pathogenesis by increasing the virulence of Shigella and at the same time stimulating the immune response of the host.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Number of pages17
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Shigella
  • Formate
  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Metabolism


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