Ultrastructure of Proteus mirabilis swarmer cell rafts and role of swarming in catheter-associated urinary tract infection

Brian Jones, R. Young, E. Mahenthiralingam, D.J. Stickler

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Proteus mirabilis is a common cause of catheter-associated urinary tract infection (C-UTI). It blocks indwelling urethral catheters through the formation of extensive crystalline biofilms. The obstruction of urine flow can induce episodes of pyelonephritis, septicemia, and shock. P. mirabilis exhibits a type of motility referred to as swarming, in which multicellular rafts of elongated, hyperflagellated swarmer cells form and move rapidly in concert over solid surfaces. It has been suggested that swarming is important in the pathogenesis of C-UTI. In this study we generated a set of stable transposon mutants deficient in swarming and used them to assess the role of swarming in the migration of P. mirabilis over urinary catheters. Swarming was found to be essential for migration over all-silicone catheters. Swarming-deficient mutants were attenuated in migration over hydrogel-coated latex catheters, but those capable of swimming motility were able to move over and infect these surfaces. A novel vapor fixation technique for the preparation of specimens and scanning electron microscopy were used to resolve the ultrastructure of P. mirabilis multicellular rafts. The flagellar filaments of P. mirabilis were found to be highly organized during raft migration and were interwoven in phase to form helical connections between adjacent swarmer cells. Mutants lacking these novel organized structures failed to swarm successfully. We suggest that these structures are important for migration and formation of multicellular rafts. In addition, the highly organized structure of multicellular rafts enables P. mirabilis to initiate C-UTI by migration over catheter surfaces from the urethral meatus into the bladder.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3941-3950
Number of pages10
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004


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