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Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) is a major foodborne pathogen and tightly adheres to human colonic epithelium by forming attaching/effacing lesions. To reach the epithelial surface, EHEC must penetrate the thick mucus layer protecting the colonic epithelium. In this study, we investigated how EHEC interacts with the intestinal mucus layer using mucin-producing LS174T colon carcinoma cells and human colonic mucosal biopsies. The level of EHEC binding and A/E lesion formation in LS174T cells was higher compared to mucin-deficient colon carcinoma cell lines, and initial adherence was independent of the presence of flagellin, E. coli common pilus or long polar fimbriae. While EHEC infection did not affect gene expression of secreted mucins, it resulted in reduced MUC2 glycoprotein levels. This effect was dependent on the catalytic activity of the secreted metalloprotease StcE which reduced the inner mucus layer and thereby promoted EHEC access and binding to the epithelium in vitro and ex vivo. Given the lack of efficient therapies against EHEC infection, StcE may represent a suitable target for future treatment and prevention strategies. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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