Bacterial microcompartment-mediated ethanolamine metabolism in Escherichia coli urinary tract infection

Katherine Dadswell, Sinead Creagh, Edward McCullagh, Mingzhi Liang, Ian R. Brown, Martin J. Warren, Alan McNally, John MacSharry, Michael B. Prentice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common and in general are caused by intestinal uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) ascending via the urethra. Microcompartment- mediated catabolism of ethanolamine, a host cell breakdown product, fuels the competitive overgrowth of intestinal E. coli, both pathogenic enterohemorrhagic E. coli and commensal strains. During a UTI, urease-negative E. coli bacteria thrive, despite the comparative nutrient limitation in urine. The role of ethanolamine as a potential nutrient source during UTIs is understudied. We evaluated the role of the metabolism of ethanolamine as a potential nitrogen and carbon source for UPEC in the urinary tract. We analyzed infected urine samples by culture, highperformance liquid chromatography, reverse transcription-quantitative PCR, and genomic sequencing. The ethanolamine concentration in urine was comparable to the concentration of the most abundant reported urinary amino acid, D-serine. Transcription of the eut operon was detected in the majority of urine samples containing E. coli screened. All sequenced UPEC strains had conserved eut operons, while metabolic genotypes previously associated with UTI (dsdCXA, metE) were mainly limited to phylogroup B2. In vitro ethanolamine was found to be utilized as a sole source of nitrogen by UPEC strains. The metabolism of ethanolamine in artificial urine medium (AUM) induced metabolosome formation and provided a growth advantage at the physiological levels found in urine. Interestingly, eutE (which encodes acetaldehyde dehydrogenase) was required for UPEC strains to utilize ethanolamine to gain a growth advantage in AUM, suggesting that ethanolamine is also utilized as a carbon source. These data suggest that urinary ethanolamine is a significant additional carbon and nitrogen source for infecting E. coli strains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00211
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Escherichia coli
  • Ethanolamine
  • Metabolosome
  • Microcompartment
  • Urinary tract infection

Cite this