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Suppression subtractive hybridization identifies an autotransporter adhesin gene of E. coli IMT5155 specifically associated with avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC)

Jianjun Dai1, Shaohui Wang1, Doreen Guerlebeck2, Claudia Laturnus2, Sebastian Guenther2, Zhenyu Shi1, Chengping Lu1* and Christa Ewers2*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Veterinary Medicine, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, 210095, China

2 Institute of Microbiology and Epizootics, Free University Berlin, Berlin, D-10115 Germany

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:236  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-236

Published: 9 September 2010



Extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) represent a phylogenetically diverse group of bacteria which are implicated in a large range of infections in humans and animals. Although subgroups of different ExPEC pathotypes, including uropathogenic, newborn meningitis causing, and avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC) share a number of virulence features, there still might be factors specifically contributing to the pathogenesis of a certain subset of strains or a distinct pathotype. Thus, we made use of suppression subtractive hybridization and compared APEC strain IMT5155 (O2:K1:H5; sequence type complex 95) with human uropathogenic E. coli strain CFT073 (O6:K2:H5; sequence type complex 73) to identify factors which may complete the currently existing model of APEC pathogenicity and further elucidate the position of this avian pathoype within the whole ExPEC group.


Twenty-eight different genomic loci were identified, which are present in IMT5155 but not in CFT073. One of these loci contained a gene encoding a putative autotransporter adhesin. The open reading frame of the gene spans a 3,498 bp region leading to a putative 124-kDa adhesive protein. A specific antibody was raised against this protein and expression of the adhesin was shown under laboratory conditions. Adherence and adherence inhibition assays demonstrated a role for the corresponding protein in adhesion to DF-1 chicken fibroblasts. Sequence analyses revealed that the flanking regions of the chromosomally located gene contained sequences of mobile genetic elements, indicating a probable spread among different strains by horizontal gene transfer. In accordance with this hypothesis, the adhesin was found to be present not only in different phylogenetic groups of extraintestinal pathogenic but also of commensal E. coli strains, yielding a significant association with strains of avian origin.


We identified a chromosomally located autotransporter gene in a highly virulent APEC strain which confers increased adherence of a non-fimbriated E. coli K-12 strain to a chicken fibroblast cell line. Even though flanked by mobile genetic elements and three different genetic regions upstream of the gene, most probably indicating horizontal gene transfer events, the adhesin gene was significantly linked with strains of avian origin. Due to the nucleotide sequence similarity of 98% to a recently published adhesin-related gene, located on plasmid pAPEC-O1-ColBM, the name aatA (APEC autotransporter adhesin A) was adopted from that study.

Our data substantiate that AatA might not only be of relevance in APEC pathogenicity but also in facilitating their reservoir life style in the chicken intestine, which might pave the way for future intestinal preventive strategies.