Escherichia coli is a Gram-negative bacterium that colonises the human intestine and virulent strains can cause severe diarrhoeal and extraintestinal diseases. The protein SslE is secreted by a range of pathogenic and commensal E. coli strains. It can degrade mucins in the intestine, promotes biofilm maturation and it is a major determinant of infection in virulent strains, although how it carries out these functions is not well understood. Here, we examine SslE from the commensal E. coli Waksman and BL21 (DE3) strains and the enterotoxigenic H10407 and enteropathogenic E2348/69 strains. We reveal that SslE has a unique and dynamic structure in solution and in response to acidification within mature biofilms it can form a unique aggregate with amyloid-like properties. Furthermore, we show that both SslE monomers and aggregates bind DNA in vitro and co-localise with extracellular DNA (eDNA) in mature biofilms, and SslE aggregates may also associate with cellulose under certain conditions. Our results suggest that interactions between SslE and eDNA are important for biofilm maturation in many E. coli strains and SslE may also be a factor that drives biofilm formation in other SslE-secreting bacteria.
- Escherichia coli