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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Characterization of attaching and effacing Escherichia coli (AEEC) isolated from pigs and sheep

Erik Fröhlicher1, Gladys Krause2, Claudio Zweifel1, Lothar Beutin2 and Roger Stephan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Food Safety and Hygiene, Vetsuisse Faculty University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 272, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

2 National Reference Laboratory for Escherichia coli, Centre for Infectiology and Pathogen Characterization, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Berlin, Germany

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BMC Microbiology 2008, 8:144  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-144

Published: 11 September 2008



Attaching and effacing Escherichia coli (AEEC) are characterized by their ability to cause attaching-and-effacing (A/E) lesions in the gut mucosa of human and animal hosts leading to diarrhoea. The genetic determinants for the production of A/E lesions are located on the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE), a pathogenicity island that also contains the genes encoding intimin (eae). This study reports data on the occurrence of eae positive E. coli carried by healthy pigs and sheep at the point of slaughter, and on serotypes, intimin variants, and further virulence factors of isolated AEEC strains.


Faecal samples from 198 finished pigs and 279 sheep were examined at slaughter. The proportion of eae positive samples was 89% for pigs and 55% for sheep. By colony dot-blot hybridization, AEEC were isolated from 50 and 53 randomly selected porcine and ovine samples and further characterized. Strains of the serotypes O2:H40, O3:H8 and O26:H11 were found in both pigs and sheep. In pigs O2:H40, O2:H49, O108:H9, O145:H28 and in sheep O2:H40, O26:H11, O70:H40, O146:H21 were the most prevalent serotypes among typable strains. Eleven different intimin types were detected, whereas γ2/θ was the most frequent, followed by β1, ε and γ1. All but two ovine strains tested negative for the genes encoding Shiga toxins. All strains tested negative for the bfpA gene and the EAF plasmid. EAST1 (astA) was present in 18 of the isolated strains.


Our data show that pigs and sheep are a source of serologically and genetically diverse intimin-harbouring E. coli strains. Most of the strains show characteristics of atypical enteropathogenic E. coli. Nevertheless, there are stx-negative AEEC strains belonging to serotypes and intimin types that are associated with classical enterohaemorrhagic E. coli strains (O26:H11, β1; O145:H28, γ1).