Document Type


Date of Original Version



Cell & Molecular Biology


The intestine is inhabited by a large microbial community consisting primarily of anaerobes and, to a lesser extent, facultative anaerobes, such as Escherichia coli, which we have shown requires aerobic respiration to compete successfully in the mouse intestine (S. A. Jones et al., Infect. Immun. 75:4891-4899, 2007). If facultative anaerobes efficiently lower oxygen availability in the intestine, then their sustained growth must also depend on anaerobic metabolism. In support of this idea, mutants lacking nitrate reductase or fumarate reductase have extreme colonization defects. Here, we further explore the role of anaerobic respiration in colonization using the streptomycin-treated mouse model. We found that respiratory electron flow is primarily via the naphthoquinones, which pass electrons to cytochrome bd oxidase and the anaerobic terminal reductases. We found that E. coli uses nitrate and fumarate in the intestine, but not nitrite, dimethyl sulfoxide, or trimethylamine N-oxide. Competitive colonizations revealed that cytochrome bd oxidase is more advantageous than nitrate reductase or fumarate reductase. Strains lacking nitrate reductase outcompeted fumarate reductase mutants once the nitrate concentration in cecal mucus reached submillimolar levels, indicating that fumarate is the more important anaerobic electron acceptor in the intestine because nitrate is limiting. Since nitrate is highest in the absence of E. coli, we conclude that E. coli is the only bacterium in the streptomycin-treated mouse large intestine that respires nitrate. Lastly, we demonstrated that a mutant lacking the NarXL regulator (activator of the NarG system), but not a mutant lacking the NarP-NarQ regulator, has a colonization defect, consistent with the advantage provided by NarG. The emerging picture is one in which gene regulation is tuned to balance expression of the terminal reductases that E. coli uses to maximize its competitiveness and achieve the highest possible population in the intestine.