Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Occurrence of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis across host species and European countries with evidence for transmission between wildlife and domestic ruminants

Karen Stevenson1*, Julio Alvarez2, Douwe Bakker3, Franck Biet4, Lucia de Juan25, Susan Denham1, Zoi Dimareli6, Karen Dohmann7, Gerald F Gerlach7, Ian Heron1, Marketa Kopecna8, Linda May1, Ivo Pavlik8, J Michael Sharp9, Virginie C Thibault114, Peter Willemsen3, Ruth N Zadoks1 and Alastair Greig10

Author Affiliations

1 Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Penicuik EH26 0PZ, UK

2 Centro de Vigilancia Sanitaria Veterinaria (VISAVET), Universidad Complutense, Avenida Puerta de Hierro s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain

3 Central Institute of Wageningen University, Edelhertweg 15, 8200 AB Lelystad, The Netherlands

4 UR1282, Infectiologie Animale, Santé Publique (IASP-311), INRA centre de Tours, F-37380 Nouzilly, France

5 Departamento de Sanidad Animal, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad Complutense, Avenida Puerta de Hierro s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain

6 Veterinary Institute of Thessaloniki, NAGREF, Thermi 57001, P.B.O: 60272 Thessaloniki, Greece

7 Institut für Mikrobiologie Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Bischofsholer Damm 15, 30173 Hannover, Germany

8 Veterinary Research Institute, Hudcova 70, 621 00 Brno, Czech Republic

9 Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Penicuik EH26 0PZ, UK

10 Scottish Agricultural College, Veterinary Science Division, Cleeve Gardens, Oakbank Road, Perth, UK

11 Laboratoire Microorganismes, Génomes et Environnement, UMR CNRS 6023, Université Blaise Pascal, 63177 Aubière cedex, France

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BMC Microbiology 2009, 9:212  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-9-212

Published: 7 October 2009



Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map) causes an infectious chronic enteritis (paratuberculosis or Johne's disease) principally of ruminants. The epidemiology of Map is poorly understood, particularly with respect to the role of wildlife reservoirs and the controversial issue of zoonotic potential (Crohn's disease). Genotypic discrimination of Map isolates is pivotal to descriptive epidemiology and resolving these issues. This study was undertaken to determine the genetic diversity of Map, enhance our understanding of the host range and distribution and assess the potential for interspecies transmission.


164 Map isolates from seven European countries representing 19 different host species were genotyped by standardized IS900 - restriction fragment length polymorphism (IS900-RFLP), pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) and mycobacterial interspersed repeat unit-variable number tandem repeat (MIRU-VNTR) analyses. Six PstI and 17 BstEII IS900-RFLP, 31 multiplex [SnaBI-SpeI] PFGE profiles and 23 MIRU-VNTR profiles were detected. AFLP gave insufficient discrimination of isolates for meaningful genetic analysis. Point estimates for Simpson's index of diversity calculated for the individual typing techniques were in the range of 0.636 to 0.664 but a combination of all three methods increased the discriminating power to 0.879, sufficient for investigating transmission dynamics. Two predominant strain types were detected across Europe with all three typing techniques. Evidence for interspecies transmission between wildlife and domestic ruminants on the same property was demonstrated in four cases, between wildlife species on the same property in two cases and between different species of domestic livestock on one property.


The results of this study showed that it is necessary to use multiple genotyping techniques targeting different sources of genetic variation to obtain the level of discrimination necessary to investigate transmission dynamics and trace the source of Map infections. Furthermore, the combination of genotyping techniques may depend on the geographical location of the population to be tested. Identical genotypes were obtained from Map isolated from different host species co-habiting on the same property strongly suggesting that interspecies transmission occurs. Interspecies transmission of Map between wildlife species and domestic livestock on the same property provides further evidence to support a role for wildlife reservoirs of infection.