Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), one of the most common reasons of diarrhea among infants and children in developing countries, causes disease by expression of either or both of the enterotoxins heat-labile (LT) and heat-stable (ST; divided into human-type [STh] and porcine-type [STp] variants), and colonization factors (CFs) among which CS6 is one of the most prevalent ETEC CFs. In this study we show that ETEC isolates expressing CS6+STh have higher copy numbers of the cssABCD operon encoding CS6 than those expressing CS6+STp. Long term cultivation of up to ten over-night passages of ETEC isolates harboring CS6+STh (n = 10) or CS6+STp (n = 15) showed instability of phenotypic expression of CS6 in a majority of the CS6+STp isolates, whereas most of the CS6+STh isolates retained CS6 expression. The observed instability was a correlated with loss of genes cssA and cssD as examined by PCR. Mobilization of the CS6 plasmid from an unstable CS6+STp isolate into a laboratory E. coli strain resulted in loss of the plasmid after a single over-night passage whereas the plasmid from an CS6+STh strain was retained in the laboratory strain during 10 passages. A sequence comparison between the CS6 plasmids from a stable and an unstable ETEC isolate revealed that genes necessary for plasmid stabilization, for example pemI, pemK, stbA, stbB and parM, were not present in the unstable ETEC isolate. Our results indicate that stable retention of CS6 may in part be affected by the stability of the plasmid on which both CS6 and STp or STh are located.
Journal: PloS one