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Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O145 is a major serotype associated with severe human disease. Production of Shiga toxins (Stxs), especially Stx2a, is thought to be correlated with STEC virulence. Since stx genes are located in prophages genomes, induction of prophages is required for effective Stxs production. Here, we investigated the production of Stxs in 12 environmental STEC O145:H28 strains under stresses STEC encounter in natural habitats and performed comparative analysis with two O145:H28 clinical strains, one linked to a 2010 U.S. lettuce-associated outbreak (RM13514) and the other linked to a 2007 Belgium ice cream-associated outbreak (RM13516). Similar to the outbreak strains, all environmental strains belong to Sequence Type (ST)-78 using the EcMLST typing scheme. Although all Stx1a-prophages were grouped together, variations in Stx1a production were observed prior to or following the inductions. Among all stx2a positive environmental strains, only the Stx2a-prophage in cattle isolate RM9154-C1 was clustered with the Stx2a-prophages in RM13514, the Stx2a-phage induced from a STEC O104:H4 strain linked to the 2011 outbreak of enterohemorrhagic infection in Germany, and the Stx2a-prophage in STEC O157:H7 strain EDL933, a prototype of enterohemorrhagic E. coli. Furthermore, the Stx2a-prophage in RM9154-C1 shared the same chromosomal insertion site and carried the same antiterminator Q gene and the late promoter PR' as the Stx2a-prophage in RM13514. Following mitomycin C or enrofloxacin treatment, the production of Stx2a in RM9154-C1 was the highest among all environmental strains tested. In contrast, following acid challenge and recovery, the production of Stx2a in RM9154-C1 was the lowest among all the environmental strains tested, at a level comparable to the clinical strains. A significant increase in Stx2a production was detected in all strains when exposed to H2O2, although the induction fold was much lower than those by other inducers. This low-efficiency induction of Stx-prophages by H2O2, a natural inducer of Stx-prophages, supports the hypothesis of bacterial altruism in controlling Stxs production, a strategy that assures the survival of the STEC population as a whole by sacrificing a small fraction of cells for Stxs production and release. Differential induction of Stxs among strains carrying nearly identical Stx-prophages suggests a role of host bacteria in regulating Stxs production. Our study revealed diverse Stx-prophages in STEC O145:H28 strains that were genotypically indistinguishable. Identification of a cattle isolate harboring a Stx2a-prophage associated with high virulence supports the premise that cattle, a natural reservoir of STEC, serve as a source of hypervirulent STEC strains. Published by Elsevier B.V.


Michelle Qiu Carter, Antares Pham, Wen-Xian Du, Xiaohua He. Differential induction of Shiga toxin in environmental Escherichia coli O145:H28 strains carrying the same genotype as the outbreak strains. International journal of food microbiology. 2021 Feb 02;339:109029

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PMID: 33360585

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