Most women have had the unpleasant experience of a urinary tract infection (UTI), with nearly one in three women requiring antibiotics before the age of 24 to treat the condition. 80 percent of these infections are caused by uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), a bacteria with increasing resistance to antibiotics, leaving many to endure the unpleasant infection with no medical relief.
To more thoroughly understand this organism, researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have been studying how UPEC spreads and multiplies. The team believes this research will aid in the discovery of new treatment options and improve medical intervention.
Microscopic analysis using human bladder cells revealed that the bacteria operate in a shapeshifting manner. During the UTI infection cycle, they first present themselves as spaghetti-like filaments hundreds of times their normal lengths before converting to their original form. The experiment also revealed a previously unknown infection mechanism called infection-related filamentation (IRF), where the long filaments break open the bladder cells.
“While we don’t fully understand why they do this extreme lifestyle make-over, we know they must revert to their original size before they can reinfect new bladder cells,” lead author Dr. Bill Söderström said. “We used advanced microscopy to follow two key cell division proteins and their localization dynamics during reversal.”
He continued: “We found that the normal rules for the regulation of cell division in bacteria do not fully apply in filaments. By giving the first clues into how the reversal of filamentation is regulated during infection, we may be laying the foundation for identifying new ways to combat UTIs.”
Professor Iain Duggin who also worked on the project added: “The devastating eruption of these bacteria from the cells of the bladder that they invade probably contributes to the extensive damage and pain experienced during a UTI. Our goal is to identify why and how the bacteria do this remarkable feat in the hope of enabling alternative treatments or preventions.”
Source study: Nature Communications – Assembly dynamics of FtsZ and DamX during infection-related filamentation and division in uropathogenic E. coli