As the consequences of increasing bacterial resistance to traditional antibiotics become evident, the importance of research and development of therapeutic alternatives is apparent. Bacterial infections can be treated with bacteriophages that show great specificity towards their bacterial host. However, whether and how bacteriophages can kill intracellular bacteria in a human cell environment remains elusive. E. coli strains displaying the K1 polysaccharide capsule virulence factor, are nosocomial pathogens responsible for urinary tract infections (UTIs), neonatal meningitis and potentialprecursors for septicaemia. These different types of infections were modelled in vitro by infecting human bladder epithelial cells (T24 HTB-4) and humancerebral endothelial cells (hCMEC/D3) with E. coli EV36, a strain displaying the K1 capsule. The infected human cells then received in vitro phage therapy using bacteriophage K1F that specifically targets E. coli strains displaying the K1 capsule. The rate of bacterial infection and the molecular and cellular mechanisms of in vitro phage therapy was analysed by means of flow cytometry, confocal and live microscopy. We show that rfp-tagged E. coli EV36-RFP and gfp-tagged bacteriophage K1F-GFP, enter the human cells via phagocytosis. Importantly, we show that bacteriophage K1F-GFP can efficiently kill intracellular E. coli EV36-RFP in human urinary bladder epithelial cells and humancerebral endothelial cells. Finally, we provide evidence that bacteria and bacteriophages are degraded by LC3-associated phagocytosis and xenophagy. Collectively this data contribute evidence-based knowledge for the ongoing development of phage therapy.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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