Modelling the gastrointestinal carriage of Klebsiella pneumoniae infections

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Klebsiella pneumoniae is a leading cause of nosocomial and community acquired infections, making K. pneumoniae the pathogen that is associated with the second largest number of deaths attributed to any antibiotic resistant infection. K. pneumoniae colonizes the nasopharynx and the gastrointestinal tract in an asymptomatic manner without dissemination to other tissues. Importantly, gastrointestinal colonization is a requisite for infection. Our understanding of K. pneumoniae colonization is still based on interrogating mouse models in which animals are pretreated with antibiotics to disturb the colonization resistance imposed by the gut microbiome. In these models, infections disseminate to other tissues. Here, we report a murine model to allow for the study of the gastrointestinal colonization of K. pneumoniae without tissue dissemination. Hypervirulent and antibiotic resistant strains stably colonize the gastrointestinal tract of in an inbred mouse population without antibiotic treatment. The small intestine is the primary site of colonization and is followed by a transition to the colon over time, without dissemination to other tissues. Our model recapitulates the disease dynamics of the metastatic K. pneumoniae strains that are able to disseminate from the gastrointestinal tract to other sterile sites. Colonization is associated with mild to moderate histopathology, no significant inflammation, and no effect on the richness of the microbiome. Our model sums up the clinical scenario in which antibiotic treatment disturbs the colonization of K. pneumoniae and results in dissemination to other tissues. Finally, we establish that the capsule polysaccharide is necessary for the colonization of the large intestine, whereas the type VI secretion system contributes to colonization across the gastrointestinal tract.

IMPORTANCE Klebsiella pneumoniae is one of the pathogens that is sweeping the world in the antibiotic resistance pandemic. Klebsiella colonizes the nasopharynx and the gut of healthy subjects in an asymptomatic manner, making gut colonization a requisite for infection. This makes it essential to understand the gastrointestinal carriage in preventing Klebsiella infections. Current research models rely on the perturbation of the gut microbiome by antibiotics, resulting in an invasive infection. Here, we report a new model of K. pneumoniae gut colonization that recapitulates key features of the asymptomatic human gastrointestinal tract colonization. In our model, there is no need to disturb the microbiota to achieve stable colonization, and there is no dissemination to other tissues. Our model sums up the clinical scenario in which antibiotic treatment triggers invasive infection. We envision that our model will be an excellent platform upon which to investigate factors enhancing colonization and invasive infections and to test therapeutics to eliminate Klebsiella asymptomatic colonization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number e03121-22
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Early online date04 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2023


  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • capsule polysaccharide
  • type VI secretion system
  • gut colonization


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