Copper primes adaptation of uropathogenic Escherichia coli to superoxide stress by activating superoxide dismutases. Academic Article uri icon


  • Copper and superoxide are used by the phagocytes to kill bacteria. Copper is a host effector encountered by uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) during urinary tract infection in a non-human primate model, and in humans. UPEC is exposed to higher levels of copper in the gut prior to entering the urinary tract. Effects of pre-exposure to copper on bacterial killing by superoxide has not been reported. We hypothesized that copper-replete E. coli is more sensitive to killing by superoxide in vitro, and in activated macrophages. We utilized wild-type UPEC strain CFT073, and its isogenic mutants lacking copper efflux systems, superoxide dismutases (SODs), regulators of a superoxide dismutase, and complemented mutants to address this question. Surprisingly, our results reveal that copper protects UPEC against killing by superoxide in vitro. This copper-dependent protection was amplified in the mutants lacking copper efflux systems. Increased levels of copper and manganese were detected in UPEC exposed to sublethal concentration of copper. Copper activated the transcription of sodA in a SoxR- and SoxS-dependent manner resulting in enhanced levels of SodA activity. Importantly, pre-exposure to copper increased the survival of UPEC within RAW264.7 and bone marrow-derived murine macrophages. Loss of SodA, but not SodB or SodC, in UPEC obliterated copper-dependent protection from superoxide in vitro, and from killing within macrophages. Collectively, our results suggest a model in which sublethal levels of copper trigger the activation of SodA and SodC through independent mechanisms that converge to promote the survival of UPEC from killing by superoxide. A major implication of our findings is that bacteria colonizing copper-rich milieus are primed for efficient detoxification of superoxide.

published proceedings

  • PLoS Pathog

altmetric score

  • 4.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Saenkham, P., Ritter, M., Donati, G. L., & Subashchandrabose, S.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Saenkham, Panatda||Ritter, Matthew||Donati, George L||Subashchandrabose, Sargurunathan

editor list (cited editors)

  • Baumler, A. J.

publication date

  • August 2020