The biochemistry of sensing: Enteric pathogens regulate type iii secretion in response to environmental and host cues

Nicole J. de Nisco, Giomar Rivera-Cancel, Kim Orth

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Enteric pathogens employ sophisticated strategies to colonize and infect mammalian hosts. Gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter jejuni, are among the leading causes of gastrointestinal tract infections worldwide. The virulence strategies of many of these Gram-negative pathogens rely on type III secretion systems (T3SSs), which are macromolecular syringes that translocate bacterial effector proteins directly into the host cytosol. However, synthesis of T3SS proteins comes at a cost to the bacterium in terms of growth rate and fitness, both in the environment and within the host. Therefore, expression of the T3SS must be tightly regulated to occur at the appropriate time and place during infection. Enteric pathogens have thus evolved regulatory mechanisms to control expression of their T3SSs in response to specific environmental and host cues. These regulatory cascades integrate multiple physical and chemical signals through complex transcriptional networks. Although the power of bacterial genetics has allowed elucidation of many of these networks, the biochemical interactions between signal and sensor that initiate the signaling cascade are often poorly understood. Here, we review the physical and chemical signals that Gram-negative enteric pathogens use to regulate T3SS expression during infection. We highlight the recent structural and functional studies that have elucidated the biochemical properties governing both the interaction between sensor and signal and the mechanisms of signal transduction from sensor to downstream transcriptional networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02122-17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Cell signaling
  • Enteric pathogens
  • Environmental cues
  • Nutritional stress
  • Pathogenesis
  • Surface sensing
  • T3SS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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