EspA filament-mediated protein translocation into red blood cells


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Type III secretion allows bacteria to inject effector proteins into host cells. In enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC), three type III secreted proteins, EspA, EspB and EspD, have been shown to be required for translocation of the Tir effector protein into host cells. EspB and EspD have been proposed to form a pore in the host cell membrane, whereas EspA, which forms a large filamentous structure bridging bacterial and host cell surfaces, is thought to provide a conduit for translocation of effector proteins between pores in the bacterial and host cell membranes. Type III secretion has been correlated with an ability to cause contact-dependent haemolysis of red blood cells (RBCs) in vitro. As EspA filaments link bacteria and the host cell, we predicted that intimate bacteria–RBC contact would not be required for EPEC-induced haemolysis and, therefore, in this study we investigated the interaction of EPEC with monolayers of RBCs attached to polylysine-coated cell culture dishes. EPEC caused total RBC haemolysis in the absence of centrifugation and osmoprotection studies were consistent with the insertion of a hydrophilic pore into the RBC membrane. Cell attachment and haemolysis involved interaction between EspA filaments and the RBC membrane and was dependent upon a functional type III secretion system and on EspD, whereas EPEC lacking EspB still caused some haemolysis. Following haemolysis, only EspD was consistently detected in the RBC membrane. This study shows that intimate bacteria–RBC membrane contact is not a requirement for EPEC-induced haemolysis; it also provides further evidence that EspA filaments are a conduit for protein translocation and that EspD may be the major component of a translocation pore in the host cell membrane.