Escherichia coli O157:H7 causes diarrhoea, haemorrhagic colitis, and the haemolytic uraemic syndrome. We have identified a protein of previously unknown function encoded on the pO157 virulence plasmid of E. coli O157:H7, which is the first described protease that specifically cleaves C1 esterase inhibitor (C1-INH), a member of the serine protease inhibitor family. The protein, named StcE for secreted protease of C1 esterase inhibitor from EHEC (formerly Tagn), cleaves C1-INH to produce (unique) ≈ 60-65 kDa fragments. StcE does not digest other serine protease inhibitors, extracellular matrix proteins or universal protease targets. We also observed that StcE causes the aggregation of cultured human T cells but not macrophage-like cells or B cells. Substitution of aspartic acid for glutamic acid at StcE position 435 within the consensus metalloprotease active site ablates its abilities to digest C1-INH and to aggregate T cells. StcE is secreted by theetp type II secretion pathway encoded on pO157, and extracellular StcE levels are positively regulated by the LEE-encoded regulator, Ler. StcE antigen and activity were detected in the faeces of a child with an E. coli O157:H7 infection, demonstrating the expression of StcE during human disease. Cleavage of C1-INH by StcE could plausibly cause localized pro-inflammatory and coagulation responses resulting in tissue damage, intestinal oedema and thrombotic abnormalities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology