Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli: an overview

J Anim Sci. 2007 Mar;85(13 Suppl):E45-62. doi: 10.2527/jas.2006-508. Epub 2006 Nov 3.


The objective of this review is to highlight the importance of cattle in human disease due to Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and to discuss features of STEC that are important in human disease. Healthy dairy and beef cattle are a major reservoir of a diverse group of STEC that infects humans through contamination of food and water, as well as through direct contact. Infection of humans by STEC may result in combinations of watery diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, and hemolytic uremic syndrome. Systems of serotyping, subtyping, and virulence typing of STEC are used to aid in epidemiology, diagnosis, and pathogenesis studies. Severe disease and outbreaks of disease are most commonly due to serotype O157:H7, which, like most other highly pathogenic STEC, colonize the large intestine by means of a characteristic attaching and effacing lesion. This lesion is induced by a bacterial type III secretion system that injects effector proteins into the intestinal epithelial cell, resulting in profound changes in the architecture and metabolism of the host cell and intimate adherence of the bacteria. Severe disease in the form of bloody diarrhea and the hemolytic uremic syndrome is attributable to Shiga toxin (Stx), which exists as 2 major types, Stx1 and Stx2. The stx genes are encoded on temperate bacteriophages in the chromosome of the bacteria, and production and release of the toxin are highly dependent on induction of the phages. Regulation of the genes involved in induction of the attaching and effacing lesion, and production of Stx is complex. In addition to these genes that are clearly implicated in virulence, there are several putative virulence factors. A major public health goal is to prevent STEC-induced disease in humans. Studies aimed at understanding factors that affect carriage and shedding of STEC by cattle and factors that contribute to development of disease in humans are considered to be important in achieving this objective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cattle Diseases / microbiology
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Escherichia coli / classification*
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Escherichia coli Infections / epidemiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / veterinary
  • Humans
  • Ruminants / microbiology*
  • Serotyping
  • Shiga Toxins / metabolism*
  • Shiga Toxins / toxicity
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / physiology


  • Shiga Toxins
  • Virulence Factors