Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli grow as discrete colonies on the mucous membranes of the small intestine. A similar pattern can be demonstrated in vitro; termed localized adherence (LA), it is characterized by the presence of circumscribed clusters of bacteria attached to the surfaces of cultured epithelial cells. The LA phenotype was studied using B171, an O111:NM enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) strain, and HEp-2 cell monolayers. LA could be detected 30-60 min after exposure of HEp-2 cells to B171. However, bacteria transferred from infected HEp-2 cells to fresh monolayers exhibited LA within 15 min, indicating that LA is an inducible phenotype. Induction of the LA phenotype was found to be associated with de novo protein synthesis and changes in the outer membrane proteins, including the production of a new 18.5-kD polypeptide. A partial NH2-terminal amino acid sequence of this polypeptide was obtained and showed it to be identical through residue 12 to the recently described bundle-forming pilus subunit of EPEC. Expression of the 18.5-kD polypeptide required the 57-megadalton enteropathogenic E. coli adherence plasmid previously shown to be required for the LA phenotype in vitro and full virulence in vivo. This observation, the correspondence of the 18.5-kD polypeptide to an EPEC-specific pilus protein, and the temporal correlation of its expression with the development of the LA phenotype suggest that it may contribute to the EPEC colonial mode of growth.

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