Objectives: The enterococcal surface protein gene, esp, is a major putative pathogenicity marker in clinical isolates of Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis. This study demonstrates in vitro conjugative transfer of the esp gene among E. faecium and E. faecalis.
Materials and methods: Enterococcal isolates from clinical samples, positive for esp, were mated on filters with enterococcal recipients. Transconjugants were checked for transfer of antibiotic resistance determinants and co-mobilization of the esp gene. They were also characterized by PCR and plasmid profiling/PFGE typing including Southern hybridizations with labelled esp probes. Transfer as triggered by excision was tested using Taqman PCR.
Results: Two of five E. faecalis and five of nine E. faecium transferred antibiotic resistance determinants into a recipient. Of the transconjugants analysed by PCR for acquisition of esp, only isolates from two E. faecalis and a single E. faecium mating were positive. In the donor strains, the esp gene was located on the chromosome. Molecular analysis revealed a plasmid localization of esp in the E. faecium transconjugant and chromosome-to-chromosome transfer in E. faecalis.
Conclusion: The esp gene is transferable by conjugation among enterococcal isolates.