Progress and hurdles in the development of vaccines against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli in humans

Weiping Zhang, David A. Sack

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 5 years. Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) strains are the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in young children living in endemic countries and children and adults traveling to these areas. Pathogenesis of ETEC diarrhea has been well studied, and the key virulence factors are bacterial colonization factor antigens and enterotoxins produced by ETEC strains. Colonization factor antigens mediate bacteria attachment to host small intestinal epithelial cells and subsequent colonization, whereas enterotoxins including heat-labile and heat-stable toxins disrupt fluid homeostasis in host epithelial cells, which leads to fluid and electrolyte hypersecretion and diarrhea. Vaccines stimulating host anti-adhesin immunity to block ETEC attachment and colonization and also antitoxin immunity to neutralize enterotoxicity are considered optimal for prevention of ETEC diarrhea. Vaccines under development have been designed to stimulate local intestinal immunity and are either oral vaccines or transcutaneous vaccines. A cholera vaccine (Dukoral®) does stimulate anti-heat-labile toxin immunity and is licensed for short-term protection of ETEC diarrhea in travelers in some countries. Newer experimental ETEC vaccine candidates are being developed with hope to provide long-lasting and more broad-based protection against ETEC. Some have shown promising results in safety and immunogenicity studies and are approaching field trials for efficacy. A key problem is the development of a vaccine that is both practical and inexpensive so that it can be affordable for use in poor countries where it is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-694
Number of pages18
JournalExpert review of vaccines
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Diarrhea
  • ETEC
  • Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli
  • Subunit vaccine
  • Whole-cell vaccine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery


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