Whole cell cross-linking to discover host-microbe protein cognate receptor/ligand pairs

Bart C Weimer, Poyin Chen, Prerak T. Desai, Dong Chen, Jigna Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Bacterial surface ligands mediate interactions with the host cell during association that determines the specific outcome for the host-microbe association. The association begins with receptors on the host cell binding ligands on the microbial cell to form a partnership that initiates responses in both cells. Methods to determine the specific cognate partnerships are lacking. Determining these molecular interactions between the host and microbial surfaces are difficult, yet crucial in defining biologically important events that are triggered during association of the microbiome, and critical in defining the initiating signal from the host membrane that results in pathology or commensal association. In this study, we designed an approach to discover cognate host-microbe receptor/ligand pairs using a covalent cross-linking strategy with whole cells. Protein/protein cross-linking occurred when the interacting molecules were within 9-12 Å, allowing for identification of specific pairs of proteins from the host and microbe that define the molecular interaction during association. To validate the method three different bacteria with three previously known protein/protein partnerships were examined. The exact interactions were confirmed and led to discovery of additional partnerships that were not recognized as cognate partners, but were previously reported to be involved in bacterial interactions. Additionally, three unknown receptor/ligand partners were discovered and validated with in vitro infection assays by blocking the putative host receptor and deleting the bacterial ligand. Subsequently, Salmonella enterica sv. Typhimurium was cross-linked to differentiated colonic epithelial cells (caco-2) to discover four previously unknown host receptors bound to three previously undefined host ligands for Salmonella. This approach resulted in a priori discovery of previously unknown and biologically important molecules for host/microbe association that were casually reported to mediate bacterial invasion. The whole cell cross-linking approach promises to enable discovery of possible targets to modulate interaction of the microbiome with the host that are important in infection and commensalism, both of with initiate a host response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1585
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 19 2018


  • Fibronectin
  • Receptor/ligand
  • Salmonella
  • SLAP domain
  • Whole cell cross linking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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