Bacterial ureases: structure, regulation of expression and role in pathogenesis

Carleen M. Collins, Sarah E.F. D'Orazio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


The nickel metalloenzyme urease catalyses the hydrolysis of urea to ammonia and carbamate, and thus generates the preferred nitrogen source of many organisms. When produced by bacterial pathogens in either the urinary tract or the gastroduodenal region, urease acts as a virulence factor. At both sites of infection urease is known to enhance the survival of the infecting bacteria. Ammonia resulting from the action of urease is believed to increase the pH of the environment to one more favourable for growth, and to injure the surrounding epithelial cells. In addition, in the urinary tract urease activity can result in the formation of urinary calculi. Bacterial urease gene clusters contain from seven to nine genes depending upon the species. These genes encode the urease structural subunits and accessory polypeptides involved in the biosynthesis of the nickel metallocentre. So far, three distinct mechanisms of urease gene expression have been described for ureolytic bacteria. Some species constitutively produce urease; some species produce urease only if urea is present in the growth medium; and some species produce urease only during nitrogen‐limiting growth conditions. For either the urea‐inducible genes or the nitrogen‐regulated genes transcription appears to be positively regulated. In the nitrogen‐regulated systems, urease gene expression requires Nac (nitrogen assimilation control), a member of the LysR family of transcriptional activators. Urea dependent expression of urease requires UreR (urease regulator), a member of the AraC family of transcriptional activators. An evolutionary tree for urease genes of eight bacterial species is proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-913
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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