Harry Mobley

Harry L. T. Mobley, Ph.D.

Frederick G. Novy Distinguished University Professor

Administrative Contact

Sheryl Hansen Smith (734) 764-1466

Areas of Interest


My laboratory is interested in the molecular mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis. We are studying virulence mechanisms of uropathogenic Escherichia coli and Proteus mirabilis that cause urinary tract infection.

The urinary tract is susceptible to infection by bacteria. Indeed, urinary tract infection is one of the most common bacterial infections of humans. The most common bacterium that infects the urinary tract of healthy individuals is Escherichia coli. On the other hand, in patients who have urinary catheters in place, Proteus mirabilis often infects the bladder and causes stones to form there. The Mobley lab is interested in the pathogenic mechanisms used by uropathogenic Escherichia coli to cause urinary tract infection (UTI) in humans.  UTI is the most frequently diagnosed kidney and urologic disease and E. coli is by far its most common etiologic agent, accounting for more than 80% of uncomplicated UTIs in otherwise healthy individuals (the majority of infections affect women).  Recurrent UTI is common among girls and young nonpregnant women who are healthy and have anatomically normal urinary tracts. These infections are a main source of morbidity and health-care cost in this population. We have investigated the virulence mechanisms of this species for over three decades. The genome of type strain, E. coli CFT073, isolated by us from a hospitalized patient with acute pyelonephritis and bacteremia was sequenced and annotated in a collaborative effort.  We have identified 13 pathogenicity islands inserted into the genome and have characterized virulence determinants including P and type 1 fimbriae, flagella, hemolysin, and iron acquisition systems.  The latter proteins (siderophore- and heme-receptors), which are always highly expressed during infection, have been used by us to develop an experimental vaccine to protect against UTI.  In addition, using RNA-seq, we have determined the expression levels for all genes from E. coli CFT073 collected directly from the urine of experimentally infected mice and from women presenting with symptoms of cystitis. This identified all genes that were expressed in vivo. These studies identified novel transport systems induced specifically in humans during an active infection.

The Mobley lab is also interested in Proteus mirabilis, a cause of catheter-associated UTI.  There are currently >2 million patients residing in our 18,000 U.S. nursing homes. In these facilities, urinary incontinence, a very frequent complication, is treated with long-term (>30 days) urinary catheterization. Nearly 100% of these patients become bacteriuric, often leading to fever, bacteremia and death. Proteus mirabilis and related species, Providencia stuartii and Morganella morganii account for more than half of these infections.  Proteus mirabilis, a gram-negative enteric bacterium, differentiates between the vegetative swimmer cell and the hyper-flagellated swarmer cell. Individuals suffering urinary tract infections (UTI) caused by P. mirabilis and related urease-positive bacterial species often develop bacteriuria, kidney and bladder stones, catheter obstruction due to stone encrustation, acute pyelonephritis, and fever. We were first to characterize the ureases of these species using molecular techniques.  P. mirabilis uses biofilm formation and swarming motility to colonize indwelling urinary catheters, and then migrates through the urethra and into the bladder. The high level of urea (~0.4 M) in urine saturates the ureases within colonizing bacteria and thus the enzymes work at Vmax. The urea-induced transcriptional activator of urease, UreR, facilitates transcription of urease genes ureDABCEFG. Urease increases the local pH surrounding the bacteria and causes precipitation of calcium and magnesium salts; these crystals form a matrix in which the bacteria are found in high numbers. The environment within the bladder either selects or signals production of MR/P fimbriae, as >85% of the bacteria are expressing this surface structure two to four days after infection, as detected by the orientation of the mrp promoter that resides on an invertible element. MrpJ, a protein encoded by the mrp operon represses flagella synthesis. P. mirabilis produces many virulence factors during ascending infection, that when inactivated, attenuate the bacterium. These virulence proteins include urease, flagellin, autotransported proteases, hemolysin, MR/P (and numerous other) fimbriae, the type VI secretion system, and a number of metabolic enzymes.  Bacteria ascend the ureters by swimming motility, and the majority of bacteria within the lumen of the ureters are producing MR/P fimbriae. P. mirabilis swarms on solid surfaces such as catheters (and agar).  When swarming bacteria meet an opposing strain they deploy a type VI secretion system to inject toxic proteins into the opponent, killing them.

Finally, a common sequalae of UTI is the development of bacteremia, that is, bacteria in the bloodstream.  Six related bacterial species including E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Citrobacter freundii, Serratia marcescens, Enterobacter cloacae, and Acinetobacter baumannii caused more than 25% of bacteremia cases.  The Mobley lab is interested in identifying common fitness factors shared by this group of pathogens that allow entry into and colonization of the bloodstream.  To this end, we have conducted Tn-seq on all six of these species in murine model of bacteremia or pneumonia.  We are investigating common fitness factors identified in multiple gram-negative bacterial species. In addition, we have become interested in measuring in vivo growth rates for these bacteria in the UTI and bacteremia models using peak-to-trough sequencing technology.

Published Articles or Reviews

Armbruster, Chelsie E., Katherine Prenovost, Harry L.T. Mobley, and Lona Mody.  2017.  How Often do Clinically Diagnosed Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections in Nursing Homes Meet Standardized Criteria? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 65:395-401.

Armbruster, Chelsie, Sara Smith, Alexandra Johnson, Valerie Deornellas, Kathryn Eaton, Alejandra Yep, Lona Mody, Weisheng Wu, and Harry Mobley.  2017. The Pathogenic Potential of Proteus mirabilis is Enhanced by Other Uropathogens During Polymicrobial Urinary Tract Infection Infect. Immun. 85:e00808-16.

Anderson, Mark T. Anderson, Lindsay A. Mitchell, Lili Zhao, Harry L. T. Mobley.  2017. Capsule production and glucose metabolism dictate fitness during Serratia marcescens bacteremia. mBio. 8:e00740-17.

Anderson, Mark, Lindsay Mitchell, and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2017. Cysteine biosynthesis controls Serratia marcescens phospholipase activity. J. Bacteriol. 199:e00159-17.

Armbruster, Chelsie E. Armbruster, Valerie DeOrnelles, Alexandra O. Johnson, Sara N. Smith, Lili Zhao, Weisheng Wu, Harry L. T. Mobley.  2017. Genome-wide transposon mutagenesis of Proteus mirabilis: essential genes, fitness factors for catheter-associated urinary tract infection, and the impact of polymicrobial infection on fitness requirements. PLoS Pathogens 13:e1006434.

Zhao Lili, Mark T. Anderson, Weisheng Wu, Yanming Li, Harry L.T. Mobley, and Michael A. Bachman.  2017.  Tnseq: Identification of Conditionally Essential Genes in Transposon Sequencing Studies. BMC Bioinformatics. 18:326.

Waack, U., T.L. Johnson, K. Chedid, C. Xi, L.A. Simmons, H.L.T. Mobley, and M. Sandkvist.  Targeting the Type II Secretion System:  Development, Optimization, and Validation of a High-Throughput Screen to Identify Small Molecule Inhibitors. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 7:380.

Alteri, Christopher J., Stephanie D. Himpsl, Kevin Zhu, Haley L. Hershey, Ninette Musili, Jessa E. Miller, and Harry L.T. Mobley.  Subtle variation within conserved effector operon gene products contributes to T6SS-mediated killing and immunity.  PLoS Pathogens  13:e1006729.

Mike, Laura A., Ashootosh Tripathi, Connor M. Blankenship, Alyssa Saluk, Pamela J. Schultz, Giselle Tamayo-Castillo, David H. Sherman, and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2017.  Discovery of Nicoyamycin A, an Inhibitor of Uropathogenic Escherichia coli Growth in Low Iron Environments. Chemical Communications 53:12778-12781.

Packiriswamy, Nandakumar, Jeff Gandy, Sara N. Smith, Harry L.T. Mobley, Lorraine M. Sordillo, and Sargurunathan Subashchandrabose. 2018. Distinct signature of oxylipid mediators of inflammation during infection and asymptomatic colonization by E. coli in the urinary bladder. Meidators of Inflammation 2017:4207928.

Sintsova, Anna, Sara Smith, Sargurunathan Subashchandrabose, and Harry L.T. Mobley.2018. Role of ethanolamine utilization genes in host colonization during urinary tract infection. Infect. Immun. 86:e00542-17.

Dbeibo L, van Rensburg JJ, Smith SN, Fortney KR, Gangaiah D, Gao H, Marzoa J, Liu Y, Mobley HLT, Spinola SM. 2018. Evaluation of CpxRA as a therapeutic target for uropathogenic Escherichia coli infections. Infect Immun. 86:e00798-17.

Forsyth, Valerie S., Chelsie E. Armbruster, Sara N. Smith, Ali Pirani, A. Cody Springman, Matthew S. Walters, Greta R. Nielubowicz, Stephie D. Himpsl, Evan S. Snitkin, and Harry L.T. Mobley.  2018. Rapid growth of uropathogenic Escherichia coli during human urinary tract infection. mBio 9:e00186-18.

Luterbach, Courtney L., Valerie Forsyth, Michael Engstrom, and Harry L.T. Mobley.  2018.  TosR-mediated regulation of adhesins in Uropathogenic E. coli. mSphere 3:00222-18.

Anderson, Mark T., Lindsay A. Mitchell, Lili Zhao and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2018  Citrobacter freundii fitness during bloodstream infection.  Scientific Reports 8:11792.

Armbruster, Chelsie E., Sara N. Smith, Lona Mody, and Harry L. T. Mobley.  2018. Urine cytokine and chemokine levels predict urinary tract infection severity independent of uropathogen, urine bacterial burden, host genetics, and host age.  Infect. Immun.  Infect. Immun. 86:e00327-18.

Crépin, Sébastien, Elizabeth N. Ottosen, Sara N. Smith, Stephanie D. Himpsl, TWO Katharina Peters, Waldemar Vollmer, and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2018.  The lytic murein transglycosylase MltB connects membrane homeostasis and in vivo fitness of Acinetobacter baumannii.  Molec. Microbiol. 109:745-762.

Irina Debnath, Anne M. Stringer, Sara N. Smith, Emily Bae, Harry L. T. Mobley, Joseph T. Wade and Melanie M. Pearson.  2018. MrpJ Directly Regulates Proteus mirabilis Virulence Factors Including Fimbriae and Type VI Secretion During Urinary Tract Infection. Infect. Immun.86:00388-18.

Luterbach, Courtney L. and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2018. Cross-talk between MarR-like transcription factors coordinates the regulation of motility in uropathogenic Escherichia coli. Infect. Immun. 86:e00338-18.

Waack, U. M. Warnock, Z. Huttinger, A. Yee, S. Smith, A. Kumar, D. Ginsburg, H.L.T. Mobley, D. Lawrence, and M. Sandkvist. 2018.  CpaA is a Glycan-Specific Adamalysin-like Protease Secreted by Acinetobacter baumannii That inactivates Coagulation Factor XII.  mBio 9:e01606-18.

Armbruster Chelsie E., Valerie S Forsyth, Alexandra O. Johnson, Sara N. Smith, Ashley N. White, Aimee L. Brauer, Brian S. Learman, Lili Zhao, Weisheng Wu, Mark T. Anderson, Michael A. Bachman, and Harry L.T. Mobley. 2019. Twin arginine translocation, ammonia incorporation, and polyamine biosynthesis are crucial for Proteus mirabilis fitness during bloodstream infection. PLoS Pathogens 15: e1007653.