Fontenot EM, Ezelle KE, Gabreski LN, Giglio ER, McAfee JM, Mills AC, Qureshi MN, Salmon KM, Toyota CG.
Escherichia coli has several mechanisms for surviving low-pH stress. We report that oxalic acid, a small-chain organic acid (SCOA), induces a moderate acid tolerance response (ATR) in two ways. Adaptation of E. coli K-12 at pH 5.5 with 50 mM oxalate and inclusion of 25 mM oxalate in pH 3.0 minimal challenge medium separately conferred protection, with 67% ± 7% and 87% ± 17% survival after 2 h, respectively. The combination of oxalate adaptation and oxalate supplementation in the challenge medium resulted in increased survival over adaptation or oxalate in the challenge medium alone. The enzymes YfdW, a formyl coenzyme A (CoA) transferase, and YfdU, an oxalyl-CoA decarboxylase, are required for the adaptation effect but not during challenge. Unlike other SCOAs, this oxalate ATR is not a part of the RpoS regulon but appears to be linked to the signal protein GadE. We theorize that this oxalate ATR could enhance the pathogenesis of virulent E. coli consumed with oxalate-containing foods like spinach.