Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) is associated with several types of extraintestinal infections, collectively known as colibacillosis. A heterogeneous population structure has hindered development of vaccines protective against all APEC. Recently, however, the existence of different APEC subpathotypes have been suggested, which are defined by specific disease syndromes and associated virulence genes. A collection of 14 APEC isolates representing clonal outbreaks of salpingitis accompanied by peritonitis and sepsis were characterized in the present study. All the strains carried large plasmids and the aim of the study was to investigate the similarity of these by sequencing, annotating and comparative analysis to identify potential vaccine targets. In addition, a comparison with gene content of human extraintestinal E. coli (ExPEC) subtypes was conducted. Results obtained demonstrated highly similar plasmid contents of the 14 APEC strains, despite the diversity of their chromosomal background. All 14 APEC carried the colicin V operon and numerous virulence genes. These included iss, traT, hlyF, eitABC, ompT, iroBCDEN, sitABCD, iutA and lucABCD. Several of these are shared with human ExPEC, implicating a possible zoonotic potential. Despite a diverse chromosomal background, it was concluded that the plasmid content of virulence genes are highly similar for the investigated APEC subpathotype. Based on their frequency, protein uniformity and subcellular localization iroN, iutA, iss, traT, ompT and etsC are suggested as vaccine-candidates. Experimental studies are, however, necessary to determine the protective potential of the candidates against the APEC subpathotype characterized by salpingitis, peritonitis and possibly septicaemia.
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