Proteus mirabilis, a significant cause of bacteriuria and acute pyelonephritis in humans, produces urease. This high-molecular-weight, multimeric, cytoplasmic enzyme hydrolyzes urea to ammonia and carbon dioxide. To assess the role of urease in colonization, urolithiasis, and acute pyelonephritis in an animal model of ascending urinary tract infection, we compared a uropathogenic strain of P. mirabilis with its isogenic urease-negative mutant, containing an insertion mutation within ureC, the gene encoding the large subunit of the enzyme. Mice challenged transurethrally with the parent strain developed significant bacteriuria and urinary stones. The urease-negative mutant had a 50% infective dose of 2.7 x 10(9) CFU, a value more than 1,000-fold greater than that of the parent strain (2.2 x 10(6) CFU). The urease-positive parent strain reached significantly higher concentrations and persisted significantly longer in the bladder and kidney than did the mutant. Indeed, in the kidney, the parent strain increased in concentration while the mutant concentration fell so that, by 1 week, the parent strain concentration was 10(6) times that of the mutant. Similarly, the urease-positive parent produced significantly more severe renal pathology than the mutant. The initial abnormalities were in and around the pelvis and consisted of acute inflammation and epithelial necrosis. By 1 week, pyelitis was more severe, crystals were seen in the pelvis, and acute pyelonephritis, with acute interstitial inflammation, tubular epithelial cell necrosis, and in some cases abscesses, had developed. By 2 weeks, more animals had renal abscesses and radial bands of fibrosis. We conclude that the urease of P. mirabilis is a critical virulence determinant for colonization, urolithiasis, and severe acute pyelonephritis
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