Dynamic persistence of UPEC intracellular bacterial communities in a human bladder-chip model of urinary tract infection

Organ Model: Bladder

Application: Infectious Disease

Abstract: Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) proliferate within superficial bladder umbrella cells to form intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs) during early stages of urinary tract infections. However, the dynamic responses of IBCs to host stresses and antibiotic therapy are difficult to assess in situ. We develop a human bladder-chip model wherein umbrella cells and bladder microvascular endothelial cells are co-cultured under flow in urine and nutritive media respectively, and bladder filling and voiding mimicked mechanically by application and release of linear strain. Using time-lapse microscopy, we show that rapid recruitment of neutrophils from the vascular channel to sites of infection leads to swarm and neutrophil extracellular trap formation but does not prevent IBC formation. Subsequently, we tracked bacterial growth dynamics in individual IBCs through two cycles of antibiotic administration interspersed with recovery periods which revealed that the elimination of bacteria within IBCs by the antibiotic was delayed, and in some instances, did not occur at all. During the recovery period, rapid proliferation in a significant fraction of IBCs reseeded new foci of infection through bacterial shedding and host cell exfoliation. These insights reinforce a dynamic role for IBCs as harbors of bacterial persistence, with significant consequences for non-compliance with antibiotic regimens.