A large German outbreak in 2011 was caused by a locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE)-negative enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) strain of the serotype O104:H4. This strain harbors markers that are characteristic of both EHEC and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC), including aggregative adhesion fimbriae (AAF) genes. Such rare EHEC/EAEC hybrids are highly pathogenic due to their possession of a combination of genes promoting severe toxicity and aggregative adhesion. We previously identified novel EHEC/EAEC hybrids and observed that one strain exhibited aggregative adherence but had no AAF genes. In this study, a genome sequence analysis showed that this strain belongs to the genoserotype O23:H8, MLST ST26, and harbors a 5.2?Mb chromosome and three plasmids. One plasmid carries some EAEC marker genes, such as aatA and genes with limited protein homology (11-61%) to those encoding the bundle-forming pilus (BFP) of enteropathogenic E. coli. Due to significant protein homology distance to known pili, we designated these as aggregate-forming pili (AFP)-encoding genes and the respective plasmid as pAFP. The afp operon was arranged similarly to the operon of BFP genes but contained an additional gene, afpA2, which is homologous to afpA. The deletion of the afp operon, afpA, or a nearby gene (afpR) encoding an AraC-like regulator, but not afpA2, led to a loss of pilin production, piliation, bacterial autoaggregation, and importantly, a?>80% reduction in adhesion and cytotoxicity toward epithelial cells. Gene sets similar to the afp operon were identified in a variety of aatA-positive but AAF-negative intestinal pathogenic E. coli. In summary, we characterized widely distributed and novel fimbriae that are essential for aggregative adherence and cytotoxicity in a LEE-negative Shiga-toxigenic hybrid.
Journal: Emerging microbes & infections