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Microbiology Of Escherichia Coli

Unveiling the hidden secrets of Escherichia Coli: Explore the fascinating world of microbiology and discover the untold stories behind this notorious bacterium.

USMLE Guide: Microbiology of Escherichia Coli


Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a commonly studied bacterium that belongs to the Enterobacteriaceae family. It is an important microorganism for the USMLE exams, as it has significant clinical relevance. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the microbiology of E. coli, covering its classification, pathogenesis, laboratory identification, treatment, and associated diseases.

I. Classification

E. coli is a gram-negative, facultative anaerobic bacillus. It is classified as follows:

  • Kingdom: Bacteria
  • Phylum: Proteobacteria
  • Class: Gammaproteobacteria
  • Order: Enterobacterales
  • Family: Enterobacteriaceae
  • Genus: Escherichia
  • Species: E. coli

II. Pathogenesis

E. coli is known for its versatile pathogenicity, which is primarily attributed to several virulence factors. The most common virulence factors include:

  1. Adhesins: E. coli uses adhesins to attach to host tissues, enabling colonization.
  2. Toxins: Certain strains produce toxins responsible for various clinical manifestations.
    • Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC): Produces heat-labile (LT) and heat-stable (ST) enterotoxins, causing traveler's diarrhea.
    • Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC): Produces Shiga-like toxins (Stx1, Stx2), leading to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and bloody diarrhea.
    • Enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC): Produces aggregative adherence fimbriae (AAF), causing persistent diarrhea.
  3. Invasins: Some strains possess invasins that facilitate invasion into host cells, leading to tissue damage.
  4. Capsule and Lipopolysaccharide (LPS): E. coli can have various capsule and LPS types, contributing to its antigenic diversity and immune evasion.

III. Laboratory Identification

Laboratory identification of E. coli involves several key tests:

  1. Gram Stain: E. coli appears as gram-negative bacilli.
  2. MacConkey Agar: E. coli ferments lactose, producing pink colonies on MacConkey agar.
  3. Indole Test: E. coli is positive for the indole test, hydrolyzing tryptophan to produce indole.
  4. Methyl Red (MR) Test: E. coli is MR positive, fermenting glucose to produce mixed acids.
  5. Voges-Proskauer (VP) Test: E. coli is VP negative, producing acetoin instead of 2,3-butanediol.
  6. Citrate Utilization: E. coli is citrate negative, unable to utilize citrate as the sole carbon source.

These tests help differentiate E. coli from other Enterobacteriaceae and aid in its identification.

IV. Treatment

Treatment of E. coli infections involves antimicrobial therapy as appropriate. However, it is crucial to consider the antibiotic susceptibility profile and the infection site. Some common antibiotics effective against E. coli include:

  • First-line: Fluoroquinolones (e.g., ciprofloxacin)
  • Second-line: Third-generation cephalosporins (e.g., ceftriaxone)
  • Alternative: Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX)

Resistance to certain antibiotics, such as extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) and carbapenemases, is a growing concern and requires individualized treatment strategies.

V. Associated Diseases

E. coli is associated with various clinical conditions, including:

  1. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): E. coli is the most common cause of uncomplicated UTIs.
  2. Gastroenteritis: E. coli can cause both non-bloody and bloody diarrhea, such as in ETEC, EHEC, and EAEC infections.
  3. Neonatal Meningitis: E. coli is a significant cause of meningitis in neonates.
  4. Septicemia: E. coli bloodstream infections can lead to sepsis, especially in immunocompromised individuals.


Understanding the microbiology of escherichia coli is crucial for the USMLE exams, as it represents an important bacterium with diverse pathogenicity and clinical implications. Familiarity with its classification, pathogenesis, laboratory identification, treatment, and associated diseases will enable medical professionals to diagnose and manage E. coli infections effectively.

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