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Loss of Trefoil Factor 2 Sensitizes Rat Pups to Systemic Infection with the Neonatal Pathogen Escherichia coli K1

Journal article
Authors A. J. McCarthy
George M. H. Birchenough
P. W. Taylor
Published in Infection and Immunity
Volume 87
Issue 5
ISSN 0019-9567
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Language en
Keywords Escherichia coli, gastrointestinal colonization, knockout rat, meningitis, neonatal pathogens, spasmolytic polypeptide, alpha-defensins, peptides, tff2, colonization, bacteremia, expression, induction, lectin, Immunology, Infectious Diseases
Subject categories Medical Biotechnology


Gastrointestinal (GI) colonization of 2-day-old (P2) rat pups with Escherichia coli K1 results in translocation of the colonizing bacteria across the small intestine, bacteremia, and invasion of the meninges, with animals frequently succumbing to lethal infection. Infection, but not colonization, is strongly age dependent; pups become progressively less susceptible to infection over the P2-to-P9 period. Colonization leads to strong downregulation of the gene encoding trefoil factor 2 (Tff2), preventing maturation of the protective mucus barrier in the small intestine. Trefoil factors promote mucosal homeostasis. We investigated the contribution of Tff2 to protection of the neonatal rat from E. coli K1 bacteremia and tissue invasion. Deletion of tff2, using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9, sensitized P9 pups to E. coli K1 bacteremia. There were no differences between tff2(-/-) homozygotes and the wild type with regard to the dynamics of GI colonization. Loss of the capacity to elaborate Tff2 did not impact GI tract integrity or the thickness of the small-intestinal mucus layer but, in contrast to P9 wild-type pups, enabled E. coli K1 bacteria to gain access to epithelial surfaces in the distal region of the small intestine and exploit an intracellular route across the epithelial monolayer to enter the blood circulation via the mesenteric lymphatic system. Although primarily associated with the mammalian gastric mucosa, we conclude that loss of Tff2 in the developing neonatal small intestine enables the opportunistic neonatal pathogen E. coli K1 to enter the compromised mucus layer in the distal small intestine prior to systemic invasion and infection.

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