Tel.+49 30 83 8-518 40/518 43 Fax.+49 30 838 45 18 51
In 2011, nearly 4,000 people in Germany were infected by Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 with > 22% of patients developing haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). Genome sequencing showed the outbreak strain to be related to enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC), suggesting its high virulence results from EAEC-typical strong adherence and biofilm formation combined to Stx production. Here, we report that the outbreak strain contains a novel diguanylate cyclase (DgcX)--producing the biofilm-promoting second messenger c-di-GMP--that shows higher expression than any other known E. coli diguanylate cyclase. Unlike closely related E. coli, the outbreak strain expresses the c-di-GMP-controlled biofilm regulator CsgD and amyloid curli fibres at 37°C, but is cellulose-negative. Moreover, it constantly generates derivatives with further increased and deregulated production of CsgD and curli. Since curli fibres are strongly proinflammatory, with cellulose counteracting this effect, high c-di-GMP and curli production by the outbreak O104:H4 strain may enhance not only adherence but may also contribute to inflammation, thereby facilitating entry of Stx into the bloodstream and to the kidneys where Stx causes HUS.