Open Access Open Badges Research article

Internalin profiling and multilocus sequence typing suggest four Listeria innocua subgroups with different evolutionary distances from Listeria monocytogenes

Jianshun Chen1, Qiaomiao Chen1, Lingli Jiang1, Changyong Cheng1, Fan Bai1, Jun Wang2, Fan Mo2 and Weihuan Fang1*

Author Affiliations

1 Zhejiang University Institute of Preventive Veterinary Medicine, and Zhejiang Provincial Key Laboratory of Prevent Veterinary Medicine, Hangzhou, PR China

2 Zhejiang California International NanoSystems Institute, Hangzhou, PR China

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:97  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-97

Published: 31 March 2010



Ecological, biochemical and genetic resemblance as well as clear differences of virulence between L. monocytogenes and L. innocua make this bacterial clade attractive as a model to examine evolution of pathogenicity. This study was attempted to examine the population structure of L. innocua and the microevolution in the L. innocua-L. monocytogenes clade via profiling of 37 internalin genes and multilocus sequence typing based on the sequences of 9 unlinked genes gyrB, sigB, dapE, hisJ, ribC, purM, gap, tuf and betL.


L. innocua was genetically monophyletic compared to L. monocytogenes, and comprised four subgroups. Subgroups A and B correlated with internalin types 1 and 3 (except the strain 0063 belonging to subgroup C) and internalin types 2 and 4 respectively. The majority of L. innocua strains belonged to these two subgroups. Subgroup A harbored a whole set of L. monocytogenes-L. innocua common and L. innocua-specific internalin genes, and displayed higher recombination rates than those of subgroup B, including the relative frequency of occurrence of recombination versus mutation (ρ/θ) and the relative effect of recombination versus point mutation (r/m). Subgroup A also exhibited a significantly smaller exterior/interior branch length ratio than expected under the coalescent model, suggesting a recent expansion of its population size. The phylogram based on the analysis with correction for recombination revealed that the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) of L. innocua subgroups A and B were similar. Additionally, subgroup D, which correlated with internalin type 5, branched off from the other three subgroups. All L. innocua strains lacked seventeen virulence genes found in L. monocytogenes (except for the subgroup D strain L43 harboring inlJ and two subgroup B strains bearing bsh) and were nonpathogenic to mice.


L. innocua represents a young species descending from L. monocytogenes and comprises four subgroups: two major subgroups A and B, and one atypical subgroup D serving as a link between L. monocytogenes and L. innocua in the evolutionary chain. Although subgroups A and B appeared at approximately the same time, subgroup A seems to have experienced a recent expansion of the population size with higher recombination frequency and effect than those of subgroup B, and might represent the possible evolutionary direction towards adaptation to enviroments. The evolutionary history in the L. monocytogenes-L. innocua clade represents a rare example of evolution towards reduced virulence of pathogens.