The inner membrane protein YhiM links copper and CpxAR envelope stress responses in uropathogenic E. coli. Academic Article uri icon


  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a ubiquitous infectious condition, and uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the predominant causative agent of UTI. Copper (Cu) is implicated in innate immunity, including against UPEC. Cu is a trace element utilized as a co-factor, but excess Cu is toxic due to mismetalation of non-cognate proteins. E. coli precisely regulates Cu homeostasis via efflux systems. However, Cu import mechanisms into the bacterial cell are not clear. We hypothesized that Cu import defective mutants would exhibit increased resistance to Cu. This hypothesis was tested in a forward genetic screen with transposon (Tn5) insertion mutants in UPEC strain CFT073, and we identified 32 unique Cu-resistant mutants. Transposon and defined mutants lacking yhiM, which encodes a hypothetical inner membrane protein, were more resistant to Cu than parental strain. Loss of YhiM led to decreased cellular Cu content and increased expression of copA, encoding a Cu efflux pump. The CpxAR envelope stress response system was activated in the yhiM mutant as indicated by increased expression of cpxP. Transcription of yhiM was regulated by CueR and CpxR, and the CpxAR system was essential for increased Cu resistance in the yhiM mutant. Importantly, activation of CpxAR system in the yhiM mutant was independent of NlpE, a known activator of this system. YhiM was required for optimal fitness of UPEC in a mouse model of UTI. Our findings demonstrate that YhiM is a critical mediator of Cu homeostasis and links bacterial adaptation to Cu stress with the CpxAR-dependent envelope stress response in UPEC.IMPORTANCEUPEC is a common bacterial infection. Bacterial pathogens are exposed to host-derived Cu during infection, including UTI. Here, we describe detection of genes involved in Cu homeostasis in UPEC. A UPEC mutant lacking YhiM, a membrane protein, exhibited dramatic increase in resistance to Cu. Our study demonstrates YhiM as a nexus between Cu stress and the CpxAR-dependent envelope stress response system. Importantly, our findings establish NlpE-independent activation of CpxAR system during Cu stress in UPEC. Collectively, YhiM emerges as a critical mediator of Cu homeostasis in UPEC and highlights the interlinked nature of bacterial adaptation to survival during Cu and envelope stress.

published proceedings

  • mBio

author list (cited authors)

  • Saenkham-Huntsinger, P., Ritter, M., Donati, G. L., Mitchell, A. M., & Subashchandrabose, S.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Saenkham-Huntsinger, Panatda||Ritter, Matthew||Donati, George L||Mitchell, Angela M||Subashchandrabose, Sargurunathan

editor list (cited editors)

  • Justice, S.

publication date

  • March 2024