Fighting fire with fire: Phage potential for the treatment of E. coli o157 infection

Cristina Howard-Varona, Dean R. Vik, Natalie E. Solonenko, Yueh Fen Li, M. Consuelo Gazitua, Lauren Chittick, Jennifer K. Samiec, Aubrey E. Jensen, Paige Anderson, Adrian Howard-Varona, Anika A. Kinkhabwala, Stephen T. Abedon, Matthew B. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Hemolytic–uremic syndrome is a life-threating disease most often associated with Shiga toxin-producing microorganisms like Escherichia coli (STEC), including E. coli O157:H7. Shiga toxin is encoded by resident prophages present within this bacterium, and both its production and release depend on the induction of Shiga toxin-encoding prophages. Consequently, treatment of STEC infections tend to be largely supportive rather than antibacterial, in part due to concerns about exacerbating such prophage induction. Here we explore STEC O157:H7 prophage induction in vitro as it pertains to phage therapy—the application of bacteriophages as antibacterial agents to treat bacterial infections—to curtail prophage induction events, while also reducing STEC O157:H7 presence. We observed that cultures treated with strictly lytic phages, despite being lysed, produce substantially fewer Shiga toxin-encoding temperate-phage virions than untreated STEC controls. We therefore suggest that phage therapy could have utility as a prophylactic treatment of individuals suspected of having been recently exposed to STEC, especially if prophage induction and by extension Shiga toxin production is not exacerbated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Bacteriophage therapy
  • Lysogenic conversion
  • Phage therapy
  • Prophage induction
  • Read recruitment
  • Shiga toxin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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