Variation in disease severity among Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections may result from differential expression of Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2). Eleven strains belonging to four prominent phylogenetic clades, including clade 8 strains representative of the 2006 U.S. spinach outbreak, were examined for stx2 expression by real-time PCR and western blot analysis. Clade 8 strains were shown to overexpress stx2 basally, and following induction with ciprofloxacin when compared to strains from clades 1-3. Differences in stx2 expression generally correlated with Stx2 protein levels. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms identified in regions upstream of stx2AB in clade 8 strains were largely absent in non-clade 8 strains. This study concludes that stx2 overexpression is common to strains from clade 8 associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and describes SNPs which may affect stx2 expression and which could be useful in the genetic differentiation of highly-virulent strains.
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