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1.  Spread of a Distinct Stx2-Encoding Phage Prototype among Escherichia coli O104:H4 Strains from Outbreaks in Germany, Norway, and Georgia 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(19):10444-10455.
Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O104:H4 caused one of the world's largest outbreaks of hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome in Germany in 2011. These strains have evolved from enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) by the acquisition of the Stx2 genes and have been designated enteroaggregative hemorrhagic E. coli. Nucleotide sequencing has shown that the Stx2 gene is carried by prophages integrated into the chromosome of STEC O104:H4. We studied the properties of Stx2-encoding bacteriophages which are responsible for the emergence of this new type of E. coli pathogen. For this, we analyzed Stx bacteriophages from STEC O104:H4 strains from Germany (in 2001 and 2011), Norway (2006), and the Republic of Georgia (2009). Viable Stx2-encoding bacteriophages could be isolated from all STEC strains except for the Norwegian strain. The Stx2 phages formed lysogens on E. coli K-12 by integration into the wrbA locus, resulting in Stx2 production. The nucleotide sequence of the Stx2 phage P13374 of a German STEC O104:H4 outbreak was determined. From the bioinformatic analyses of the prophage sequence of 60,894 bp, 79 open reading frames were inferred. Interestingly, the Stx2 phages from the German 2001 and 2011 outbreak strains were found to be identical and closely related to the Stx2 phages from the Georgian 2009 isolates. Major proteins of the virion particles were analyzed by mass spectrometry. Stx2 production in STEC O104:H4 strains was inducible by mitomycin C and was compared to Stx2 production of E. coli K-12 lysogens.
PMCID: PMC3457275  PMID: 22811533
2.  A Comparison of Shiga-Toxin 2 Bacteriophage from Classical Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli Serotypes and the German E. coli O104:H4 Outbreak Strain 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37362.
Escherichia coli O104:H4 was associated with a severe foodborne disease outbreak originating in Germany in May 2011. More than 4000 illnesses and 50 deaths were reported. The outbreak strain was a typical enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) that acquired an antibiotic resistance plasmid and a Shiga-toxin 2 (Stx2)-encoding bacteriophage. Based on whole-genome phylogenies, the O104:H4 strain was most closely related to other EAEC strains; however, Stx2-bacteriophage are mobile, and do not necessarily share an evolutionary history with their bacterial host. In this study, we analyzed Stx2-bacteriophage from the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak isolates and compared them to all available Stx2-bacteriophage sequences. We also compared Stx2 production by an E. coli O104:H4 outbreak-associated isolate (ON-2011) to that of E. coli O157:H7 strains EDL933 and Sakai. Among the E. coli Stx2-phage sequences studied, that from O111:H- strain JB1-95 was most closely related phylogenetically to the Stx2-phage from the O104:H4 outbreak isolates. The phylogeny of most other Stx2-phage was largely concordant with their bacterial host genomes. Finally, O104:H4 strain ON-2011 produced less Stx2 than E. coli O157:H7 strains EDL933 and Sakai in culture; however, when mitomycin C was added, ON-2011 produced significantly more toxin than the E. coli O157:H7 strains. The Stx2-phage from the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak strain and the Stx2-phage from O111:H- strain JB1-95 likely share a common ancestor. Incongruence between the phylogenies of the Stx2-phage and their host genomes suggest the recent Stx2-phage acquisition by E. coli O104:H4. The increase in Stx2-production by ON-2011 following mitomycin C treatment may or may not be related to the high rates of hemolytic uremic syndrome associated with the German outbreak strain. Further studies are required to determine whether the elevated Stx2-production levels are due to bacteriophage or E. coli O104:H4 host related factors.
PMCID: PMC3359367  PMID: 22649523
3.  Adaptive Mutations and Replacements of Virulence Traits in the Escherichia coli O104:H4 Outbreak Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63027.
The sequencing of highly virulent Escherichia coli O104:H4 strains isolated during the outbreak of bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome in Europe in 2011 revealed a genome that contained a Shiga toxin encoding prophage and a plasmid encoding enteroaggregative fimbriae. Here, we present the draft genome sequence of a strain isolated in Sweden from a patient who had travelled to Tunisia in 2010 (E112/10) and was found to differ from the outbreak strains by only 38 SNPs in non-repetitive regions, 16 of which were mapped to the branch to the outbreak strain. We identified putatively adaptive mutations in genes for transporters, outer surface proteins and enzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates. A comparative analysis with other historical strains showed that E112/10 contained Shiga toxin prophage genes of the same genotype as the outbreak strain, while these genes have been replaced by a different genotype in two otherwise very closely related strains isolated in the Republic of Georgia in 2009. We also present the genome sequences of two enteroaggregative E. coli strains affiliated with phylogroup A (C43/90 and C48/93) that contain the agg genes for the AAF/I-type fimbriae characteristic of the outbreak population. Interestingly, C43/90 also contained a tet/mer antibiotic resistance island that was nearly identical in sequence to that of the outbreak strain, while the corresponding island in the Georgian strains was most similar to E. coli strains of other serotypes. We conclude that the pan-genome of the outbreak population is shared with strains of the A phylogroup and that its evolutionary history is littered with gene replacement events, including most recently independent acquisitions of antibiotic resistance genes in the outbreak strains and its nearest neighbors. The results are summarized in a refined evolutionary model for the emergence of the O104:H4 outbreak population.
PMCID: PMC3651199  PMID: 23675451
4.  Prophage Induction Is Enhanced and Required for Renal Disease and Lethality in an EHEC Mouse Model 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(3):e1003236.
Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), particularly serotype O157:H7, causes hemorrhagic colitis, hemolytic uremic syndrome, and even death. In vitro studies showed that Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2), the primary virulence factor expressed by EDL933 (an O157:H7 strain), is encoded by the 933W prophage. And the bacterial subpopulation in which the 933W prophage is induced is the producer of Stx2. Using the germ-free mouse, we show the essential role 933W induction plays in the virulence of EDL933 infection. An EDL933 derivative with a single mutation in its 933W prophage, resulting specifically in that phage being uninducible, colonizes the intestines, but fails to cause any of the pathological changes seen with the parent strain. Hence, induction of the 933W prophage is the primary event leading to disease from EDL933 infection. We constructed a derivative of EDL933, SIVET, with a biosensor that specifically measures induction of the 933W prophage. Using this biosensor to measure 933W induction in germ-free mice, we found an increase three logs greater than was expected from in vitro results. Since the induced population produces and releases Stx2, this result indicates that an activity in the intestine increases Stx2 production.
Author Summary
Infection with Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), and more recently with the Enteroaggregative E. coli strain O104:H4, is a significant health risk, causing bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and even death. The virulence factor in these bacteria responsible for the severe outcomes is Shiga toxin (Stx). Genes encoding Stx are in the genome of bacterial viruses (prophages) on the pathogenic E. coli chromosomes. The prophage remains quiescent until damage to the bacterial chromosome occurs causing prophage gene expression (called induction), which leads to production of bacteriophages that are released into the environment. Because stx expression is controlled by the phage regulatory system, prophage induction leads additionally to production and release of Stx. This study provides conclusive evidence that in a mouse model of EHEC infection, induction of the prophage carrying the stx genes is specifically required for EHEC to cause disease and that the intestinal environment adds to the induction and therefore to the production of Stx. Similar events likely regulate Stx production and release by the Stx encoding phage in the O104:H4 strain. Controlling prophage induction offers a means to control EHEC infection.
PMCID: PMC3610611  PMID: 23555250
5.  Virulence of the Shiga Toxin Type 2-Expressing Escherichia coli O104:H4 German Outbreak Isolate in Two Animal Models 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(5):1562-1574.
In May 2011, a large food-borne outbreak was traced to an unusual O104:H4 enteroaggregative Escherichia coli (EAEC) strain that produced Shiga toxin (Stx) type 2 (Stx2). We developed a mouse model to study the pathogenesis and treatment for this strain and examined the virulence of the isolate for Dutch belted rabbits. O104:H4 strain C227-11 was gavaged into C57BL/6 mice at 109 to 1011 CFU/animal. The infected animals were then given water with ampicillin (Amp; 5 g/liter) ad libitum. The C227-11-infected, Amp-treated C57BL/6 mice exhibited both morbidity and mortality. Kidneys from mice infected with C227-11 showed acute tubular necrosis, a finding seen in mice infected with typical Stx-producing E. coli. We provided anti-Stx2 antibody after infection and found that all of the antibody-treated mice gained more weight than untreated mice and, in another study, that all of the antibody-treated animals lived, whereas 3/8 phosphate-buffered saline-treated mice died. We further compared the pathogenesis of C227-11 with that of an Stx-negative (Stx−) O104:H4 isolate, C734-09, and an Stx2− phage-cured derivative of C227-11. Whereas C227-11-infected animals lost weight or gained less weight over the course of infection and died, mice infected with either of the Stx− isolates did not lose weight and only one mouse died. When the Stx-positive (Stx+) and Stx2− O104:H4 strains were compared in rabbits, greater morbidity and mortality were observed in rabbits infected with the Stx2+ isolates than the Stx2− isolates. In conclusion, we describe two animal models for EAEC pathogenesis, and these studies show that Stx2 is responsible for most of the virulence observed in C227-11-infected mice and rabbits.
PMCID: PMC3647979  PMID: 23439303
6.  Shiga toxin-converting phages and the emergence of new pathogenic Escherichia coli: a world in motion 
Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are pathogenic E. coli causing diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis (HC) and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). STEC are characterized by a constellation of virulence factors additional to Stx and have long been regarded as capable to cause HC and HUS when possessing the ability of inducing the attaching and effacing (A/E) lesion to the enterocyte, although strains isolated from such severe infections sometimes lack this virulence feature. Interestingly, the capability to cause the A/E lesion is shared with another E. coli pathogroup, the Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC). In the very recent times, a different type of STEC broke the scene causing a shift in the paradigm for HUS-associated STEC. In 2011, a STEC O104:H4 caused a large outbreak with more than 800 HUS and 50 deaths. Such a strain presented the adhesion determinants of Enteroaggregative E. coli (EAggEC). We investigated the possibility that, besides STEC and EAggEC, other pathogenic E. coli could be susceptible to infection with stx-phages. A panel of stx2-phages obtained from STEC isolated from human disease was used to infect experimentally E. coli strains representing all the known pathogenic types, including both diarrheagenic E. coli (DEC) and extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC). We observed that all the E. coli pathogroups used in the infection experiments were susceptible to the infection. Our results suggest that the stx2-phages used may not have specificity for E. coli adapted to the intestinal environment, at least in the conditions used. Additionally, we could only observe transient lysogens suggesting that the event of stable stx2-phage acquisition occurs rarely.
PMCID: PMC4064290  PMID: 24999453
Escherichia coli; Shigatoxin; stx-phages; STEC; pathogroups
7.  The Highly Virulent 2006 Norwegian EHEC O103:H25 Outbreak Strain Is Related to the 2011 German O104:H4 Outbreak Strain 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e31413.
In 2006, a severe foodborne EHEC outbreak occured in Norway. Seventeen cases were recorded and the HUS frequency was 60%. The causative strain, Esherichia coli O103:H25, is considered to be particularly virulent. Sequencing of the outbreak strain revealed resemblance to the 2011 German outbreak strain E. coli O104:H4, both in genome and Shiga toxin 2-encoding (Stx2) phage sequence. The nucleotide identity between the Stx2 phages from the Norwegian and German outbreak strains was 90%. During the 2006 outbreak, stx2-positive O103:H25 E. coli was isolated from two patients. All the other outbreak associated isolates, including all food isolates, were stx-negative, and carried a different phage replacing the Stx2 phage. This phage was of similar size to the Stx2 phage, but had a distinctive early phage region and no stx gene. The sequence of the early region of this phage was not retrieved from the bacterial host genome, and the origin of the phage is unknown. The contaminated food most likely contained a mixture of E. coli O103:H25 cells with either one of the phages.
PMCID: PMC3293862  PMID: 22403614
8.  Identification and Characterization of a Newly Isolated Shiga Toxin 2-Converting Phage from Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli 
Infection and Immunity  1998;66(9):4100-4107.
Shiga toxins 1 (Stx1) and 2 (Stx2) are encoded by toxin-converting bacteriophages of Stx-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), and so far two Stx1- and one Stx2-converting phages have been isolated from two STEC strains (A. D. O’Brien, J. W. Newlands, S. F. Miller, R. K. Holmes, H. W. Smith, and S. B. Formal, Science 226:694–696, 1984). In this study, we isolated two Stx2-converting phages, designated Stx2Φ-I and Stx2Φ-II, from two clinical strains of STEC associated with the outbreaks in Japan in 1996 and found that Stx2Φ-I resembled 933W, the previously reported Stx2-converting phage, in its infective properties for E. coli K-12 strain C600 while Stx2Φ-II was distinct from them. The sizes of the plaques of Stx2Φ-I and Stx2Φ-II in C600 were different; the former was larger than the latter. The restriction maps of Stx2Φ-I and Stx2Φ-II were not identical; rather, Stx2Φ-II DNA was approximately 3 kb larger than Stx2Φ-I DNA. Furthermore, Stx2Φ-I and Stx2Φ-II showed different phage immunity, with Stx2Φ-I and 933W belonging to the same group. Infection of C600 by Stx2Φ-I or 933W was affected by environmental osmolarity differently from that by Stx2Φ-II. When C600 was grown under conditions of high osmolarity, the infectivity of Stx2Φ-I and 933W was greatly decreased compared with that of Stx2Φ-II. Examination of the plating efficiency of the three phages for the defined mutations in C600 revealed that the efficiency of Stx2Φ-I and 933W for the fadL mutant decreased to less than 10−7 compared with that for C600 whereas the efficiency of Stx2Φ-II decreased to 0.1% of that for C600. In contrast, while the plating efficiency of Stx2Φ-II for the lamB mutant decreased to a low level (0.05% of that for C600), the efficiencies of Stx2Φ-I and 933W were not changed. This was confirmed by the phage neutralization experiments with isolated outer membrane fractions from C600, fadL mutant, or lamB mutant or the purified His6-tagged FadL and LamB proteins. Based on the data, we concluded that FadL acts as the receptor for Stx2Φ-I and Stx2Φ-II whereas LamB acts as the receptor only for Stx2Φ-II.
PMCID: PMC108492  PMID: 9712754
9.  Comparative Genomics of Recent Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli O104:H4: Short-Term Evolution of an Emerging Pathogen 
mBio  2013;4(1):e00452-12.
The large outbreak of diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 in Europe from May to July 2011 highlighted the potential of a rarely identified E. coli serogroup to cause severe disease. Prior to the outbreak, there were very few reports of disease caused by this pathogen and thus little known of its diversity and evolution. The identification of cases of HUS caused by E. coli O104:H4 in France and Turkey after the outbreak and with no clear epidemiological links raises questions about whether these sporadic cases are derived from the outbreak. Here, we report genome sequences of five independent isolates from these cases and results of a comparative analysis with historical and 2011 outbreak isolates. These analyses revealed that the five isolates are not derived from the outbreak strain; however, they are more closely related to the outbreak strain and each other than to isolates identified prior to the 2011 outbreak. Over the short time scale represented by these closely related organisms, the majority of genome variation is found within their mobile genetic elements: none of the nine O104:H4 isolates compared here contain the same set of plasmids, and their prophages and genomic islands also differ. Moreover, the presence of closely related HUS-associated E. coli O104:H4 isolates supports the contention that fully virulent O104:H4 isolates are widespread and emphasizes the possibility of future food-borne E. coli O104:H4 outbreaks.
In the summer of 2011, a large outbreak of bloody diarrhea with a high rate of severe complications took place in Europe, caused by a previously rarely seen Escherichia coli strain of serogroup O104:H4. Identification of subsequent infections caused by E. coli O104:H4 raised questions about whether these new cases represented ongoing transmission of the outbreak strain. In this study, we sequenced the genomes of isolates from five recent cases and compared them with historical isolates. The analyses reveal that, in the very short term, evolution of the bacterial genome takes place in parts of the genome that are exchanged among bacteria, and these regions contain genes involved in adaptation to local environments. We show that these recent isolates are not derived from the outbreak strain but are very closely related and share many of the same disease-causing genes, emphasizing the concern that these bacteria may cause future severe outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC3551546  PMID: 23341549
10.  Two Novel EHEC/EAEC Hybrid Strains Isolated from Human Infections 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e95379.
The so far highest number of life-threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome was associated with a food-borne outbreak in 2011 in Germany which was caused by an enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) of the rare serotype O104:H4. Most importantly, the outbreak strain harbored genes characteristic of both EHEC and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC). Such strains have been described seldom but due to the combination of virulence genes show a high pathogenicity potential. To evaluate the importance of EHEC/EAEC hybrid strains in human disease, we analyzed the EHEC strain collection of the German National Reference Centre for Salmonella and other Bacterial Enteric Pathogens (NRC). After exclusion of O104:H4 EHEC/EAEC strains, out of about 2400 EHEC strains sent to NRC between 2008 and 2012, two strains exhibited both EHEC and EAEC marker genes, specifically were stx2 and aatA positive. Like the 2011 outbreak strain, one of the novel EHEC/EAEC harbored the Shiga toxin gene type stx2a. The strain was isolated from a patient with bloody diarrhea in 2010, was serotyped as O59:H−, belonged to MLST ST1136, and exhibited genes for type IV aggregative adherence fimbriae (AAF). The second strain was isolated from a patient with diarrhea in 2012, harbored stx2b, was typed as Orough:H−, and belonged to MLST ST26. Although the strain conferred the aggregative adherence phenotype, no known AAF genes corresponding to fimbrial types I to V were detected. In summary, EHEC/EAEC hybrid strains are currently rarely isolated from human disease cases in Germany and two novel EHEC/EAEC of rare serovars/MLST sequence types were characterized.
PMCID: PMC3994036  PMID: 24752200
11.  An Investigation of the Diversity of Strains of Enteroaggregative Escherichia coli Isolated from Cases Associated with a Large Multi-Pathogen Foodborne Outbreak in the UK 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e98103.
Following a large outbreak of foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) disease, a multiplex PCR approach was used retrospectively to investigate faecal specimens from 88 of the 413 reported cases. Gene targets from a range of bacterial GI pathogens were detected, including Salmonella species, Shigella species and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, with the majority (75%) of faecal specimens being PCR positive for aggR associated with the Enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) group. The 20 isolates of EAEC recovered from the outbreak specimens exhibited a range of serotypes, the most frequent being O104:H4 and O131:H27. None of the EAEC isolates had the Shiga toxin (stx) genes. Multilocus sequence typing and single nucleotide polymorphism analysis of the core genome confirmed the diverse phylogeny of the strains. The analysis also revealed a close phylogenetic relationship between the EAEC O104:H4 strains in this outbreak and the strain of E. coli O104:H4 associated with a large outbreak of haemolytic ureamic syndrome in Germany in 2011. Further analysis of the EAEC plasmids, encoding the key enteroaggregative virulence genes, showed diversity with respect to FIB/FII type, gene content and genomic architecture. Known EAEC virulence genes, such as aggR, aat and aap, were present in all but one of the strains. A variety of fimbrial genes were observed, including genes encoding all five known fimbrial types, AAF/1 to AAF/V. The AAI operon was present in its entirety in 15 of the EAEC strains, absent in three and present, but incomplete, in two isolates. EAEC is known to be a diverse pathotype and this study demonstrates that a high level of diversity in strains recovered from cases associated with a single outbreak. Although the EAEC in this study did not carry the stx genes, this outbreak provides further evidence of the pathogenic potential of the EAEC O104:H4 serotype.
PMCID: PMC4028294  PMID: 24844597
12.  One of Two Copies of the Gene for the Activatable Shiga Toxin Type 2d in Escherichia coli O91:H21 Strain B2F1 Is Associated with an Inducible Bacteriophage  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(8):4282-4291.
Shiga toxin (Stx) types 1 and 2 are encoded within intact or defective temperate bacteriophages in Stx-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), and expression of these toxins is linked to bacteriophage induction. Among Stx2 variants, only stx2e from one human STEC isolate has been reported to be carried within a toxin-converting phage. In this study, we examined the O91:H21 STEC isolate B2F1, which carries two functional alleles for the potent activatable Stx2 variant toxin, Stx2d, for the presence of Stx2d-converting bacteriophages. We first constructed mutants of B2F1 that produced one or the other Stx2d toxin and found that the mutant that produced only Stx2d1 made less toxin than the Stx2d2-producing mutant. Consistent with that result, the Stx2d1-producing mutant was attenuated in a streptomycin-treated mouse model of STEC infection. When the mutants were treated with mitomycin C to promote bacteriophage induction, Vero cell cytotoxicity was elevated only in extracts of the Stx2d1-producing mutant. Additionally, when mice were treated with ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that induces the O157:H7 Stx2-converting phage, the animals were more susceptible to the Stx2d1-producing mutant. Moreover, an stx2d1-containing lysogen was isolated from plaques on strain DH5α that had been exposed to lysates of the mutant that produced Stx2d1 only, and supernatants from that lysogen transformed with a plasmid encoding RecA were cytotoxic when the lysogen was induced with mitomycin C. Finally, electron-microscopic examination of extracts from the Stx2d1-producing mutant showed hexagonal particles that resemble the prototypic Stx2-converting phage 933W. Together these observations provide strong evidence that expression of Stx2d1 is bacteriophage associated. We conclude that despite the sequence similarity of the stx2d1- and stx2d2-flanking regions in B2F1, Stx2d1 expression is repressed within the context of its toxin-converting phage while Stx2d2 expression is independent of phage induction.
PMCID: PMC128153  PMID: 12117937
13.  Origins of the E. coli Strain Causing an Outbreak of Hemolytic–Uremic Syndrome in Germany 
The New England journal of medicine  2011;365(8):709-717.
A large outbreak of diarrhea and the hemolytic–uremic syndrome caused by an unusual serotype of Shiga-toxin–producing Escherichia coli (O104:H4) began in Germany in May 2011. As of July 22, a large number of cases of diarrhea caused by Shiga-toxin–producing E. coli have been reported — 3167 without the hemolytic–uremic syndrome (16 deaths) and 908 with the hemolytic–uremic syndrome (34 deaths) — indicating that this strain is notably more virulent than most of the Shiga-toxin–producing E. coli strains. Preliminary genetic characterization of the outbreak strain suggested that, unlike most of these strains, it should be classified within the enteroaggregative pathotype of E. coli.
We used third-generation, single-molecule, real-time DNA sequencing to determine the complete genome sequence of the German outbreak strain, as well as the genome sequences of seven diarrhea-associated enteroaggregative E. coli serotype O104:H4 strains from Africa and four enteroaggregative E. coli reference strains belonging to other serotypes. Genomewide comparisons were performed with the use of these enteroaggregative E. coli genomes, as well as those of 40 previously sequenced E. coli isolates.
The enteroaggregative E. coli O104:H4 strains are closely related and form a distinct clade among E. coli and enteroaggregative E. coli strains. However, the genome of the German outbreak strain can be distinguished from those of other O104:H4 strains because it contains a prophage encoding Shiga toxin 2 and a distinct set of additional virulence and antibiotic-resistance factors.
Our findings suggest that horizontal genetic exchange allowed for the emergence of the highly virulent Shiga-toxin–producing enteroaggregative E. coli O104:H4 strain that caused the German outbreak. More broadly, these findings highlight the way in which the plasticity of bacterial genomes facilitates the emergence of new pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3168948  PMID: 21793740
14.  Clinical Escherichia coli Strains Carrying stx Genes: stx Variants and stx-Positive Virulence Profiles 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2002;40(12):4585-4593.
Altogether, 173 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) serotype O157 (n = 111) and non-O157 (n = 62) isolates from 170 subjects were screened by PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism for eight different stx genes. The results were compiled according to serotypes, phage types of O157, production of Stx toxin and enterohemolysin, and the presence of eae. The stx genes occurred in 11 combinations; the most common were stx2 with stx2c (42%), stx2 alone (21%), and stx1 alone (16%). Of the O157 strains, 64% carried stx2 with stx2c versus 2% of the non-O157 strains (P < 0.001). In the non-O157 strains, the prevailing gene was stx1 (99% versus 1% in O157 strains; P < 0.001). In addition, one strain (O Rough:H4:stx2c) which has not previously been described as associated with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) was found. Ten stx-positive virulence profiles were responsible for 71% of all STEC infections. Of these profiles, five accounted for 71% of the 21 strains isolated from 20 patients with HUS or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). The strains having the virulence profile that caused mainly HUS or TTP or bloody diarrhea produced Stx with titers of ≥1:128 (90%) more commonly than did other strains (51%; P < 0.001). These strains were also more commonly enterohemolytic (98% versus 68% for other strains; P < 0.001) and possessed the eae gene (100%) more commonly than did other strains (74%; P < 0.001). A particular virulence profile, O157:H7:PT2:stx2:stx2c:eae:Ehly, was significantly more frequently associated with HUS and bloody diarrhea than were other profiles (P = 0.02) and also caused the deaths of two children. In this study, the risk factors for severe symptoms were an age of <5 years and infection by the strain of O157:H7:PT2 mentioned above.
PMCID: PMC154619  PMID: 12454157
15.  Development of a PCR-Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Assay for the Epidemiological Analysis of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2004;42(11):5205-5213.
Six characteristic regions (I to VI) were identified in Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2) phages (T. Sato, T. Shimizu, M. Watarai, M. Kobayashi, S. Kano, T. Hamabata, Y. Takeda, and S. Yamasaki, Gene 309:35-48, 2003). Region V, which is ca. 10 kb in size and is located in the upstream region of the Stx operons, includes the most distinctive region among six Stx phages whose genome sequences have been determined. In this study, we developed a PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) assay for the epidemiological analysis of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) on the basis of the diversity of region V. When region V was amplified by long and accurate-PCR (LA-PCR) with five control E. coli strains carrying six different Stx phages such as E. coli strains C600 (Stx1 phage), C600 (933W phage), C600 (Stx2 phage-I), C600 (Stx2 phage-II), and O157:H7 Sakai strain RIMD0509952 (VT1-Sakai phage and VT2-Sakai phage), an expected size of the band was obtained. Restriction digest of each PCR product with BglI or EcoRV also gave the expected sizes of banding patterns and discriminated the RFLPs of five control strains. When a total of 204 STEC O157 strains were analyzed by LA-PCR, one to three bands whose sizes ranged from 8.2 to 14 kb were obtained. Two STEC O157 strains, however, did not produce any bands. Subsequent restriction digest of the PCR products with BglI or EcoRV differentiated the RFLPs of 202 STEC O157 strains into 24 groups. The RFLP patterns of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of representative strains of STEC O157 divided into 24 groups were well correlated with those of PCR-RFLP when STEC O157 strains were isolated in the same time period and in the close geographic area. To evaluate the PCR-RFLP assay developed here, ten strains, each isolated from four different outbreaks in different areas in Japan (Tochigi, Hyogo, Aichi, and Fukuoka prefecture), were examined to determine whether the strains in each group showed the same RFLP patterns in the PCR-RFLP assay. In accordance with the results of PFGE except for strains isolated in an area (Fukuoka), which did not produce any amplicon, ten strains in each group demonstrated the same RFLP pattern. Taken together, these data suggest that the PCR-RFLP based on region V is as useful as PFGE but perhaps more simple and rapid than PFGE for the molecular epidemiological analysis of STEC strains during sporadic and common source outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC525232  PMID: 15528716
16.  Characterizing RecA-Independent Induction of Shiga toxin2-Encoding Phages by EDTA Treatment 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e32393.
The bacteriophage life cycle has an important role in Shiga toxin (Stx) expression. The induction of Shiga toxin-encoding phages (Stx phages) increases toxin production as a result of replication of the phage genome, and phage lysis of the host cell also provides a means of Stx toxin to exit the cell. Previous studies suggested that prophage induction might also occur in the absence of SOS response, independently of RecA.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The influence of EDTA on RecA-independent Stx2 phage induction was assessed, in laboratory lysogens and in EHEC strains carrying Stx2 phages in their genome, by Real-Time PCR. RecA-independent mechanisms described for phage λ induction (RcsA and DsrA) were not involved in Stx2 phage induction. In addition, mutations in the pathway for the stress response of the bacterial envelope to EDTA did not contribute to Stx2 phage induction. The effect of EDTA on Stx phage induction is due to its chelating properties, which was also confirmed by the use of citrate, another chelating agent. Our results indicate that EDTA affects Stx2 phage induction by disruption of the bacterial outer membrane due to chelation of Mg2+. In all the conditions evaluated, the pH value had a decisive role in Stx2 phage induction.
Chelating agents, such as EDTA and citrate, induce Stx phages, which raises concerns due to their frequent use in food and pharmaceutical products. This study contributes to our understanding of the phenomenon of induction and release of Stx phages as an important factor in the pathogenicity of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and in the emergence of new pathogenic strains.
PMCID: PMC3290563  PMID: 22393404
17.  Lysogeny with Shiga Toxin 2-Encoding Bacteriophages Represses Type III Secretion in Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002672.
Lytic or lysogenic infections by bacteriophages drive the evolution of enteric bacteria. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) have recently emerged as a significant zoonotic infection of humans with the main serotypes carried by ruminants. Typical EHEC strains are defined by the expression of a type III secretion (T3S) system, the production of Shiga toxins (Stx) and association with specific clinical symptoms. The genes for Stx are present on lambdoid bacteriophages integrated into the E. coli genome. Phage type (PT) 21/28 is the most prevalent strain type linked with human EHEC infections in the United Kingdom and is more likely to be associated with cattle shedding high levels of the organism than PT32 strains. In this study we have demonstrated that the majority (90%) of PT 21/28 strains contain both Stx2 and Stx2c phages, irrespective of source. This is in contrast to PT 32 strains for which only a minority of strains contain both Stx2 and 2c phages (28%). PT21/28 strains had a lower median level of T3S compared to PT32 strains and so the relationship between Stx phage lysogeny and T3S was investigated. Deletion of Stx2 phages from EHEC strains increased the level of T3S whereas lysogeny decreased T3S. This regulation was confirmed in an E. coli K12 background transduced with a marked Stx2 phage followed by measurement of a T3S reporter controlled by induced levels of the LEE-encoded regulator (Ler). The presence of an integrated Stx2 phage was shown to repress Ler induction of LEE1 and this regulation involved the CII phage regulator. This repression could be relieved by ectopic expression of a cognate CI regulator. A model is proposed in which Stx2-encoding bacteriophages regulate T3S to co-ordinate epithelial cell colonisation that is promoted by Stx and secreted effector proteins.
Author Summary
Many significant infectious diseases that impact human health evolve in animal hosts. Our work focuses on infections caused by strains of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) that cause bloody diarrhoea and life threatening kidney and brain damage in humans as an incidental host, while ruminants are a reservoir host. EHEC strains are infected with bacteriophages that can integrate their genetic material into the bacterial chromosome. This includes genes for the production of Shiga toxins (Stx) that are responsible for the severe pathology in humans. It has been demonstrated that certain EHEC strains are more likely to be associated with human disease and ‘supershedding’ animals. The current study has shown that these EHEC strains are more likely to contain two related Stx bacteriophages, rather than one, and that the intercalating bacteriophages take control of the bacterial type III secretion system that is essential for ruminant colonization. We propose that this regulation favours co-acquisition of other genetic regions that encode type III-secreted proteins and regulators that can overcome this control. This finding helps our understanding of EHEC strain evolution and indicates that selection of more toxic strains may be occurring in the ruminant host with important implications for human health.
PMCID: PMC3355084  PMID: 22615557
18.  Role for a Phage Promoter in Shiga Toxin 2 Expression from a Pathogenic Escherichia coli Strain 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(6):2081-2085.
Shiga toxins (Stxs), encoded by the stxA and stxB genes, are important contributors to the virulence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other Stx-producing E. coli (STEC) strains. The stxA and stxB genes in STEC strains are located on the genomes of resident prophages of the λ family immediately downstream of the phage late promoters (pR′). The phage-encoded Q proteins modify RNA polymerase initiating transcription at the cognate pR′ promoter which creates transcription complexes that transcend a transcription terminator immediately downstream of pR′ as well as terminator kilobases distal to pR′. To test if this Q-directed processive transcription plays a role in stx2AB expression, we constructed a mutant prophage in an O157:H7 clinical isolate from which pR′ and part of Q were deleted but which has an intact pStx, the previously described stx2AB-associated promoter. We report that production of significant levels of Stx2 in this O157:H7 isolate depends on the pR′ promoter. Since transcription initiating at pR′ ultimately requires activation of the phage lytic cascade, expression of stx2AB in STEC depends primarily on prophage induction. By showing this central role for the prophage in stx2AB expression, our findings contradict the prevailing assumption that phages serve merely as agents for virulence gene transfer.
PMCID: PMC95105  PMID: 11222608
19.  Evolution of the Stx2-Encoding Prophage in Persistent Bovine Escherichia coli O157:H7 Strains 
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a human pathogen that resides asymptomatically in its bovine host. The level of Shiga toxin (Stx) produced is variable in bovine-derived strains in contrast to human isolates that mostly produce high levels of Stx. To understand the genetic basis for varied Stx production, chronological collections of bovine isolates from Wisconsin dairy farms, R and X, were analyzed for multilocus prophage polymorphisms, stx2 subtypes, and the levels of stx2 transcript and toxin. The E. coli O157:H7 that persisted on both farms were phylogenetically distinct and yet produced little to no Stx2 due to gene deletions in Stx2c-encoding prophage (farm R) or insertional inactivation of stx2a by IS1203v (farm X). Loss of key regulatory and lysis genes in Stx2c-encoding prophage abolished stx2c transcription and induction of the prophage and stx2a::IS1203v in Stx2a-encoding prophage generated a truncated stx2a mRNA without affecting phage production. Stx2-producing strains were transiently present (farm R) and became Stx2 negative on farm X (i.e., stx2a::IS1203v). To our knowledge, this is the first study that details the evolution of E. coli O157:H7 and its Stx2-encoding prophage in a chronological collection of natural isolates. The data suggest the bovine and farm environments can be niches where Stx2-negative E. coli O157:H7 emerge and persist, which explains the Stx variability in bovine isolates and may be part of an evolutionary step toward becoming bovine specialists.
PMCID: PMC3591979  PMID: 23275514
20.  Effects of Antibiotics on Shiga Toxin 2 Production and Bacteriophage Induction by Epidemic Escherichia coli O104:H4 Strain 
The role of antibiotics in treatment of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) infections is controversial because of concerns about triggering hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) by increasing Shiga toxin (Stx) production. During the recent large EHEC O104:H4 outbreak, antibiotic therapy was indicated for some patients. We tested a diverse panel of antibiotics to which the outbreak strain is susceptible to interrogate the effects of subinhibitory antibiotic concentrations on induction of stx2-harboring bacteriophages, stx2 transcription, and Stx2 production in this emerging pathogen. Ciprofloxacin significantly increased stx2-harboring phage induction and Stx2 production in outbreak isolates (P values of <0.001 to <0.05), while fosfomycin, gentamicin, and kanamycin insignificantly influenced them (P > 0.1) and chloramphenicol, meropenem, azithromycin, rifaximin, and tigecycline significantly decreased them (P ≤ 0.05). Ciprofloxacin and chloramphenicol significantly upregulated and downregulated stx2 transcription, respectively (P < 0.01); the other antibiotics had insignificant effects (P > 0.1). Meropenem, azithromycin, and rifaximin, which were used for necessary therapeutic or prophylactic interventions during the EHEC O104:H4 outbreak, as well as tigecycline, neither induced stx2-harboring phages nor increased stx2 transcription or Stx2 production in the outbreak strain. These antibiotics might represent therapeutic options for patients with EHEC O104:H4 infection if antibiotic treatment is inevitable. We await further analysis of the epidemic to determine if usage of these agents was associated with an altered risk of developing HUS.
PMCID: PMC3370775  PMID: 22391549
21.  Bacteriophage 2851 Is a Prototype Phage for Dissemination of the Shiga Toxin Variant Gene 2c in Escherichia coli O157:H7▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2008;76(12):5466-5477.
The production of Shiga toxin (Stx) (verocytotoxin) is a major virulence factor of Escherichia coli O157:H7 strains (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli [STEC] O157). Two types of Shiga toxins, designated Stx1 and Stx2, are produced in STEC O157. Variants of the Stx2 type (Stx2, Stx2c) are associated with high virulences of these strains for humans. A bacteriophage designated 2851 from a human STEC O157 encoding the Stx2c variant was described previously. Nucleotide sequence analysis of the phage 2851 genome revealed 75 predicted coding sequences and indicated a mosaic structure typical for lambdoid phages. Analyses of free phages and K-12 phage 2851 lysogens revealed that upon excision from the bacterial chromosome, the loss of a phage-encoded IS629 element leads to fusion of phage antA and antB genes, with the generation of a recombined antAB gene encoding a strong antirepressor. In wild-type E. coli O157 as well as in K-12 strains, phage 2851 was found to be integrated in the sbcB locus. Additionally, phage 2851 carries an open reading frame which encodes an OspB-like type III effector similar to that found in Shigella spp. Investigation of 39 stx2c E. coli O157 strains revealed that all except 1 were positive for most phage 2851-specific genes and possessed a prophage with the same border sequences integrated into the sbcB locus. Phage 2851-specific sequences were absent from most stx2c-negative E. coli O157 strains, and we suggest that phage 2851-like phages contributed significantly to the dissemination of the Stx2c variant toxin within this group of E. coli.
PMCID: PMC2583581  PMID: 18824528
22.  Isolation of a Lysogenic Bacteriophage Carrying the stx1OX3 Gene, Which Is Closely Associated with Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Strains from Sheep and Humans 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2001;39(11):3992-3998.
A specific PCR for the detection of a variant of the gene encoding Shiga toxin 1 (stx1) called stx1OX3 (GenBank accession no. Z36901) was developed. The PCR was used to investigate 148 Stx1-producing Escherichia coli strains from human patients (n = 72), cattle (n = 27), sheep (n = 48), and a goat (n = 1) for the presence of the stx1OX3 gene. The stx1OX3 gene was present in 38 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strains from sheep belonging to serogroups O5, O125, O128, O146, and OX3 but was absent from Stx1-positive ovine STEC O91 strains. The stx1OX3 gene was also detected in 22 STEC strains from humans with nonbloody diarrhea and from asymptomatic excreters. Serotypes O146:H21 and O128:H2 were most frequently associated with stx1OX3-carrying STEC from sheep and humans. In contrast, Stx1-producing STEC strains from cattle and goats and 50 STEC strains from humans were all negative for the stx1OX3 gene. The stx1OX3-negative strains belonged to 13 serotypes which were different from those of the stx1OX3-positive STEC strains. Moreover, the stx1OX3 gene was not associated with STEC belonging to enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) serogroups O26, O103, O111, O118, O145, and O157. A bacteriophage carrying the stx1OX3 gene (phage 6220) was isolated from a human STEC O146:H21 strain. The phage was able to lysogenize laboratory E. coli K-12 strain C600. Phage 6220 shared a similar morphology and a high degree of DNA homology with Stx2-encoding phage 933W, which originates from EHEC O157. In contrast, few similarities were found between phage 6220 and Stx1-encoding bacteriophage H-19B from EHEC O26.
PMCID: PMC88477  PMID: 11682520
23.  First-Time Isolation and Characterization of a Bacteriophage Encoding the Shiga Toxin 2c Variant, Which Is Globally Spread in Strains of Escherichia coli O157  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(12):7030-7039.
A bacteriophage encoding the Shiga toxin 2c variant (Stx2c) was isolated from the human Escherichia coli O157 strain CB2851 and shown to form lysogens on the E. coli K-12 laboratory strains C600 and MG1655. Production of Stx2c was found in the wild-type E. coli O157 strain and the K-12 lysogens and was inducible by growing bacteria in the presence of ciprofloxacin. Phage 2851 is the first reported viable bacteriophage which carries an stx2c gene. Electron micrographs of phage 2851 showed particles with elongated hexagonal heads and long flexible tails resembling phage lambda. Sequence analysis of an 8.4-kb region flanking the stx2c gene and other genetic elements revealed a mosaic gene structure, as found in other Stx phages. Phage 2851 showed lysis of E. coli K-12 strains lysogenic for Stx phages encoding Stx1 (H19), Stx2 (933W), Stx (7888), and Stx1c (6220) but showed superinfection immunity with phage lambda, presumably originating from the similarity of the cI repressor proteins of both phages. Apparently, phage 2851 integrates at a different chromosomal locus than Stx2 phage 933W and Stx1 phage H19 in E. coli, explaining why Stx2c is often found in combination with Stx1 or Stx2 in E. coli O157 strains. Diagnostic PCR was performed to determine gene sequences specific for phage 2851 in wild-type E. coli O157 strains producing Stx2c. The phage 2851 q and o genes were frequently detected in Stx2c-producing E. coli O157 strains, indicating that phages related to 2851 are associated with Stx2c production in strains of E. coli O157 that were isolated in different locations and time periods.
PMCID: PMC529153  PMID: 15557626
24.  Prospective Genomic Characterization of the German Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O104:H4 Outbreak by Rapid Next Generation Sequencing Technology 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22751.
An ongoing outbreak of exceptionally virulent Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 centered in Germany, has caused over 830 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and 46 deaths since May 2011. Serotype O104:H4, which has not been detected in animals, has rarely been associated with HUS in the past. To prospectively elucidate the unique characteristics of this strain in the early stages of this outbreak, we applied whole genome sequencing on the Life Technologies Ion Torrent PGM™ sequencer and Optical Mapping to characterize one outbreak isolate (LB226692) and a historic O104:H4 HUS isolate from 2001 (01-09591). Reference guided draft assemblies of both strains were completed with the newly introduced PGM™ within 62 hours. The HUS-associated strains both carried genes typically found in two types of pathogenic E. coli, enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). Phylogenetic analyses of 1,144 core E. coli genes indicate that the HUS-causing O104:H4 strains and the previously published sequence of the EAEC strain 55989 show a close relationship but are only distantly related to common EHEC serotypes. Though closely related, the outbreak strain differs from the 2001 strain in plasmid content and fimbrial genes. We propose a model in which EAEC 55989 and EHEC O104:H4 strains evolved from a common EHEC O104:H4 progenitor, and suggest that by stepwise gain and loss of chromosomal and plasmid-encoded virulence factors, a highly pathogenic hybrid of EAEC and EHEC emerged as the current outbreak clone. In conclusion, rapid next-generation technologies facilitated prospective whole genome characterization in the early stages of an outbreak.
PMCID: PMC3140518  PMID: 21799941
25.  Immunity Profiles of Wild-Type and Recombinant Shiga-Like Toxin-Encoding Bacteriophages and Characterization of Novel Double Lysogens  
Infection and Immunity  2003;71(6):3409-3418.
The pathogenicity of Shiga-like toxin (stx)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), notably serotype O157, the causative agent of hemorrhagic colitis, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, is based partly on the presence of genes (stx1 and/or stx2) that are known to be carried on temperate lambdoid bacteriophages. Stx phages were isolated from different STEC strains and found to have genome sizes in the range of 48 to 62 kb and to carry either stx1 or stx2 genes. Restriction fragment length polymorphism patterns and sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis protein profiles were relatively uninformative, but the phages could be differentiated according to their immunity profiles. Furthermore, these were sufficiently sensitive to enable the identification and differentiation of two different phages, both carrying the genes for Stx2 and originating from the same STEC host strain. The immunity profiles of the different Stx phages did not conform to the model established for bacteriophage lambda, in that the pattern of individual Stx phage infection of various lysogens was neither expected nor predicted. Unexpected differences were also observed among Stx phages in their relative lytic productivity within a single host. Two antibiotic resistance markers were used to tag a recombinant phage in which the stx genes were inactivated, enabling the first reported observation of the simultaneous infection of a single host with two genetically identical Stx phages. The data demonstrate that, although Stx phages are members of the lambdoid family, their replication and infection control strategies are not necessarily identical to the archetypical bacteriophage λ, and this could be responsible for the widespread occurrence of stx genes across a diverse range of E. coli serotypes.
PMCID: PMC155745  PMID: 12761125

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