The mammalian gastrointestinal tract is a complex biochemical organ that generates a diverse milieu of host- and microbe-derived metabolites. In this environment, bacterial pathogens sense and respond to specific stimuli, which are integrated into the regulation of their virulence programs. Previously, we identified the transcription factor FadR, a long-chain fatty acid (LCFA) acyl coenzyme A (acyl-CoA) sensor, as a novel virulence regulator in the human foodborne pathogen enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC). Here, we demonstrate that exogenous LCFAs directly inhibit the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) pathogenicity island in EHEC through sensing by FadR. Moreover, in addition to LCFAs that are 18 carbons in length or shorter, we introduce host-derived arachidonic acid (C20:4) as an additional LCFA that is recognized by the FadR system in EHEC. We show that arachidonic acid is processed by the acyl-CoA synthetase FadD, which permits binding to FadR and decreases FadR affinity for its target DNA sequences. This interaction enables the transcriptional regulation of FadR-responsive operons by arachidonic acid in EHEC, including the LEE. Finally, we show that arachidonic acid inhibits hallmarks of EHEC disease in a FadR-dependent manner, including EHEC attachment to epithelial cells and the formation of attaching and effacing lesions. Together, our findings delineate a molecular mechanism demonstrating how LCFAs can directly inhibit the virulence of an enteric bacterial pathogen. More broadly, our findings expand the repertoire of ligands sensed by the canonical LFCA sensing machinery in EHEC to include arachidonic acid, an important bioactive lipid that is ubiquitous within host environments.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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