Host mucin is exploited by Pseudomonas aeruginosa to provide monosaccharides required for a successful infection

Casandra L. Hoffman, Jonathan Lalsiamthara, Alejandro Aballay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


One of the primary functions of the mucosal barrier, found lining epithelial cells, is to serve as a first-line of defense against microbial pathogens. The major structural components of mucus are heavily glycosylated proteins called mucins. Mucins are key components of the innate immune system as they aid in the clearance of pathogens and can decrease pathogen virulence. It has also been recently reported that individual mucins and derived glycans can attenuate the virulence of the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Here, we show data indicating that mucins not only play a role in host defense but that they can also be subverted by P. aeruginosa to cause disease. We found that the mucin MUL-1 and mucin-derived monosaccharides N-acetyl-galactosamine and N-acetylglucosamine are required for P. aeruginosa killing of Caenorhabditis elegans. We also found that the defective adhesion of P. aeruginosa to human lung alveolar epithelial cells, deficient in the mucin MUC1, can be reversed by the addition of individual monosaccharides. The monosaccharides identified in this study are found in a wide range of organisms where they act as host factors required for bacterial pathogenesis. While mucins in C. elegans lack sialic acid caps, which makes their monosaccharides readily available, they are capped in other species. Pathogens such as P. aeruginosa that lack sialidases may rely on enzymes from other bacteria to utilize mucin-derived monosaccharides. IMPORTANCE One of the first lines of defense present at mucosal epithelial tissues is mucus, which is a highly viscous material formed by mucin glycoproteins. Mucins serve various functions, but importantly they aid in the clearance of pathogens and debris from epithelial barriers and serve as innate immune factors. In this study, we describe a requirement of host monosaccharides, likely derived from host mucins, for the ability of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to colonize the intestine and ultimately cause death in Caenorhabditis elegans. We also demonstrate that monosaccharides alter the ability of bacteria to bind to both Caenorhabditis elegans intestinal cells and human lung alveolar epithelial cells, suggesting that there are conserved mechanisms underlying host-pathogen interactions in a range of organisms. By gaining a better understanding of pathogen-mucin interactions, we can develop better approaches to protect against pathogen infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00060-20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Bacterial colonization
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Infection
  • Innate immunity
  • Lung cells
  • Muc1
  • Mucin
  • Mul-1
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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