Background: The hypervirulent Clostridium difficile ribotype 027 can be classified into subtypes, but it unknown if these differ in terms of severity of C. difficile infection (CDI). Genomic studies of C. difficile 027 strains have established that they are rich in mobile genetic elements including prophages. This study combined physiological studies, electron microscopy analysis and molecular biology to determine the potential role of temperate bacteriophages in disease and diversity of C. difficile 027.
Methodology/principal findings: We induced prophages from 91 clinical C. difficile 027 isolates and used transmission electron microscopy and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis to characterise the bacteriophages present. We established a correlation between phage morphology and subtype. Morphologically distinct tailed bacteriophages belonging to Myoviridae and Siphoviridae were identified in 63 and three isolates, respectively. Dual phage carriage was observed in four isolates. In addition, there were inducible phage tail-like particles (PT-LPs) in all isolates. The capacity of two antibiotics mitomycin C and norfloxacin to induce prophages was compared and it was shown that they induced specific prophages from C. difficile isolates. A PCR assay targeting the capsid gene of the myoviruses was designed to examine molecular diversity of C. difficile myoviruses. Phylogenetic analysis of the capsid gene sequences from eight ribotypes showed that all sequences found in the ribotype 027 isolates were identical and distinct from other C. difficile ribotypes and other bacteria species.
Conclusion/significance: A diverse set of temperate bacteriophages are associated with C. difficile 027. The observed correlation between phage carriage and the subtypes suggests that temperate bacteriophages contribute to the diversity of C. difficile 027 and may play a role in severity of disease associated with this ribotype. The capsid gene can be used as a tool to identify C. difficile myoviruses present within bacterial genomes.