Role of Intimin and Tir in Actin Signalling by Enterohemorrhagic and Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli: A Dissertation

Publication Date

December 2003

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology


Escherichia coli Proteins; Actins; Adhesins, Escherichia coli; Oncogene Proteins; Receptors, Cell Surface; Signal Transduction; Academic Dissertations; Dissertations, UMMS


Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (EHEC) and Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) are intestinal pathogens that induce characteristic lesions on mammalian cells called actin pedestals. Attachment to host cells by both EPEC and EHEC is an essential step towards colonization and is associated with the formation of highly organized actin cytoskeletal elements termed as attaching and effacing (AE) lesions beneath bound bacteria. The outer membrane protein intimin is required for the formation of these structures and binds its own translocated mammalian cell receptor called Translocated intimin receptor (Tir). These interactions induce a cascade of events that result in actin pedestal formation.

In this thesis, we characterized pedestal formation and the requirements of pedestal formation by host adapted and in vitro cultivated EHEC. Our data indicate that growing EHEC in the mammalian host enhances bacterial cell attachment, expression and translocation of virulence effectors and actin signaling, and this enhancement is likely to entail more than one bacterial activity involved in host cell interactions.

We also focused on the interaction between the two key bacterial players involved in pedestal formation, intimin and Tir. We randomly mutagenized the Tir-binding domain of intimin and isolated point mutants that disrupted Tir recognition. The ability of intimin mutants to bind to recombinant Tir correlated with their ability to trigger AE lesions on pre-infected mammalian cells. Half of the mutations fell within the previously identified 50 amino acid C-terminal region of intimin, and alanine scanning mutagenesis of this region identified four residues of EHEC intimin that are critical for Tir recognition. In a model of the EHEC intimin-Tir complex that is based on EPEC intimin and Tir, these four amino acids are predicted to be located at the intimin-Tir interface, indicating that these residues play a functional role in intimin recognition by Tir.

To identify critical residues involved in intimin recognition and intimin mediated actin signaling, we generated point mutations in the extracellular domain of EHEC Tir. Based on our data, we conclude that Tir-intimin interaction is essential for triggering actin pedestals, and intimin function in the context of Tir signaling can be replaced by proteins that are entirely unrelated to intimin but that bind to Tir. These data are concordant with the model that intimin functions to cluster Tir in the membrane to induce actin assembly.

Finally, as a step to study downstream actin signaling processes after Tir translocation, we mapped the domain of Tir involved in host cell signaling. We found that the clustering of a 12 amino acid stretch of C-terminus encompassing the Nck binding sequence of Tir generated actin nucleation indistinguishable from that mediated by the entire C-terminus, and abrogation of Nck binding by mutation of Y474 to Phenylalanine abolished actin assembly. Although these results do not rule out a role for other domains of Tir involved in actin pedestal formation, this suggests that the essential element of Tir consists of the Nck binding domain.


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