The Clostridium difficile exotoxin, TcdB, which is a major virulence factor, varies between strains of this pathogen. Herein, we show that TcdB from the epidemic BI/NAP1/027 strain of C. difficile is more lethal, causes more extensive brain hemorrhage, and is antigenically variable from TcdB produced by previously studied strains of this pathogen (TcdB003). In mouse intoxication assays, TcdB from a ribotype 027 strain (TcdB027) was at least four fold more lethal than TcdB003. TcdB027 caused a previously undescribed brain hemorrhage in mice and this correlated with a heightened sensitivity of brain microvascular endothelial cells to the toxin. TcdB003 and TcdB027 also differed in their antigenic profiles and did not share cross-neutralizing epitopes in a major immunogenic region of the protein. Solid phase humoral mapping of epitopes in the carboxy-terminal domains (CTD) of TcdB027 and TcdB003 identified 11 reactive epitopes that varied between the two forms of TcdB, and 13 epitopes that were shared or overlapping. Despite the epitope differences and absence of neutralizing epitopes in the CTD of TcdB027, a toxoid form of this toxin primed a strong protective response. These findings indicate TcdB027 is a more potent toxin than TcdB003 as measured by lethality assays and pathology, moreover the sequence differences between the two forms of TcdB alter antigenic epitopes and reduce cross-neutralization by antibodies targeting the CTD.
During the past decade, the C. difficile BI/NAP1/027 strain has emerged and in some settings predominated as the cause of C. difficile infection. Moreover, in some reports C. difficile BI/NAP1/027 has been associated with more severe disease. The reasons for association of this strain with more severe disease and relapse are poorly understood. We compared the toxicity and antigenic profiles of the major C. difficile virulence factor, TcdB, from a previously studied reference strain and a BI/NAP1/027 strain. The results indicate TcdB027, the toxin from the BI/NAP1/027 strain, is more lethal and causes more extensive brain hemorrhaging than TcdB003, the toxin produced by a reference strain of C. difficile. Furthermore, the results show that the antigenic carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) encodes at least 11 epitopes that differ between the two forms of TcdB. In line with this, experiments demonstrate that antiserum against the CTD does not cross-neutralize TcdB003 and TcdB027 toxicity against CHO cells, and TcdB027 appears to be devoid of neutralizing epitopes in this domain. These findings indicate differences in TcdB003 and TcdB027 contribute to increased virulence of C. difficile BI/NAP1/027 and reduce the likelihood of acquired immunity providing cross-protection against infection by these strains.