Document Type


Date of Original Version



Cell & Molecular Biology


Whole-genome expression profiling revealed Escherichia coli MG1655 genes induced by growth on mucus, conditions designed to mimic nutrient availability in the mammalian intestine. Most were nutritional genes corresponding to catabolic pathways for nutrients found in mucus. We knocked out several pathways and tested the relative fitness of the mutants for colonization of the mouse intestine in competition with their wild-type parent. We found that only mutations in sugar pathways affected colonization, not phospholipid and amino acid catabolism, not gluconeogenesis, not the tricarboxylic acid cycle, and not the pentose phosphate pathway. Gluconate appeared to be a major carbon source used by E. coli MG1655 to colonize, having an impact on both the initiation and maintenance stages. N-acetylglucosamine and N-acetylneuraminic acid appeared to be involved in initiation, but not maintenance. Glucuronate, mannose, fucose, and ribose appeared to be involved in maintenance, but not initiation. The in vitro order of preference for these seven sugars paralleled the relative impact of the corresponding metabolic lesions on colonization: gluconate > N-acetylglucosamine > N-acetylneuraminic acid = glucuronate > mannose > fucose > ribose. The results of this systematic analysis of nutrients used by E. coli MG1655 to colonize the mouse intestine are intriguing in light of the nutrient-niche hypothesis, which states that the ecological niches within the intestine are defined by nutrient availability. Because humans are presumably colonized with different commensal strains, differences in nutrient availability may provide an open niche for infecting E. coli pathogens in some individuals and a barrier to infection in others.