Escherichia coli is a major agent of bovine mastitis worldwide. However, specific E. coli virulence factors associated to pathogenicity during intra-mammary infections are yet unknown and this pathotype remains uncharacterized. The objectives of the present work were to assess the presence of a wide range of known virulence factors in a large set of E. coli strains isolated from bovine mastitis (mastitis set) and to study the genotypic distribution of strains in the mastitis set in comparison to a set of strains isolated from cows' environment in dairy farms (environmental set). Virulence factors were assessed by DNA hybridization microarray. The three most prevalent virulence factors found in the mastitis set were lpfA (long polar fimbriae), iss (increased serum resistance) and astA (enteroaggregative E. coli heat-stable enterotoxin 1). None, however, characterized the majority of these strains. Genotyping was assessed by ECOR phylogenetic grouping, multilocus sequence typing (MLST) and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Strains in the mastitis and environmental sets were differentially distributed into ECOR phylogenetic groups; groups A and B1 being the most prevalent ones. Multiple MLST strain types were found in the two sets of strains, but only a few were common to both, and diversity was higher in the environmental set. A variety of PFGE patterns were found in the mastitis and environmental sets. Two clusters comprising mostly highly similar mastitis strains were identified. The results confirm that mastitis E. coli strains mostly lack known E. coli virulence factors. In addition, it is shown that the genotypic diversity of mastitis strains does not reflect the diversity found in the environmental E. coli population.
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