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Summary

Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) are highly infectious pathogens capable of causing severe diarrhoeal illnesses. As a critical step during their colonization, EHEC adhere intimately to intestinal epithelial cells and generate F-actin ‘pedestal’ structures that elevate them above surrounding cell surfaces. Intimate adhesion and pedestal formation result from delivery of the EHEC type III secretion system (TTSS) effector proteins Tir and EspFU into the host cell and expression of the bacterial outer membrane adhesin, intimin. To investigate a role for DNA methylation during the regulation of adhesion and pedestal formation in EHEC, we deleted the dam (DNA adenine methyltransferase) gene from EHEC O157:H7 and demonstrate that this mutation results in increased interactions with cultured host cells. EHECΔdam exhibits dramatically elevated levels of adherence and pedestal formation when compared with wild-type EHEC, and expresses significantly higher protein levels of intimin, Tir and EspFU. Analyses of GFP fusions, Northern blotting, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, and microarray experiments indicate that the abundance of Tir in the dam mutant is not due to increased transcription levels, raising the possibility that Dam methylation can indirectly control protein expression by a post-transcriptional mechanism. In contrast to other dam-deficient pathogens, EHECΔdam is capable of robust intestinal colonization of experimentally infected animals.