Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) are ubiquitous diarrheal pathogens that thrive in areas lacking basic human needs of clean water and sanitation. These genetically plastic organisms cause tremendous morbidity among disadvantaged young children, both in the form of acute diarrheal illness and sequelae of malnutrition and growth impairment. The recent discovery of additional plasmid-encoded virulence factors and elucidation of their critical role in the molecular pathogenesis of ETEC may inform new approaches to the development of broadly protective vaccines. Although these pathogens have been closely linked epidemiologically with non-diarrheal sequelae, these conditions remain very poorly understood. Similarly, while canonical effects of ETEC toxins on cellular signaling promoting diarrhea are clear, emerging data suggest that these toxins may also drive changes in intestinal architecture and associated sequelae. Elucidation of molecular events underlying these changes could inform optimal approaches to vaccines that prevent acute diarrhea and ETEC-associated sequelae.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.