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Open Access Research article

The non-pathogenic Escherichia coli strain W secretes SslE via the virulence-associated type II secretion system beta

Mark S DeCanio12, Robert Landick123 and Rembrandt J F Haft1*

Author Affiliations

1 Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

2 Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

3 Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:130  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-130

Published: 12 June 2013



Many pathogenic E. coli strains secrete virulence factors using type II secretory systems, homologs of which are widespread in Gram-negative bacteria. Recently, the enteropathogenic Escherichia coli strain E2348/69 was shown to secrete and surface-anchor SslE, a biofilm-promoting virulence factor, via a type II secretion system. Genes encoding SslE and its associated secretion system are conserved in some non-pathogenic E. coli, including the commonly-used W (Waksman) strain.


We report here that E. coli W uses its type II secretion system to export a cognate SslE protein. SslE secretion is temperature- and nutrient-dependent, being robust at 37°C in rich medium but strongly repressed by lower temperatures or nutrient limitation. Fusing either of two glycosyl hydrolases to the C-terminus of SslE prevented it from being secreted or surface-exposed. We screened mutations that inactivated the type II secretion system for stress-related phenotypes and found that inactivation of the secretion system conferred a modest increase in tolerance to high concentrations of urea. Additionally, we note that the genes encoding this secretion system are present at a hypervariable locus and have been independently lost or gained in different lineages of E. coli.


The non-pathogenic E. coli W strain shares the extracellular virulence factor SslE, and its associated secretory system, with pathogenic E. coli strains. The pattern of regulation of SslE secretion we observed suggests that SslE plays a role in colonization of mammalian hosts by non-pathogenic as well as pathogenic E. coli. Our work provides a non-pathogenic model system for the study of SslE secretion, and informs future research into the function of SslE during host colonization.

Type II secretion; Surface display; Escherichia coli; Colonization factor