Background: Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) are a group of common and potentially deadly intestinal pathogens expressing Shiga toxin (Stx) as a primary virulence factor. Of the two types of Stx, Stx2 is responsible for more severe symptoms during infection, while Stx1 is almost identical to the Shiga toxin from Shigella dysenteriae, a ubiquitous pathogen in developing countries. Although antibodies against Stx1 have been reported, few have reached the affinity needed for assembling highly sensitive immunoassays. Sensitive and affordable immunoassays for Stx1 and Stx2 could help improve detection of STEC in livestock, food, the environment, and in clinical samples resulting in improved food safety and human health.
Method and findings: Three new monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against the B subunit of Stx1 were generated using recombinant toxoid Stx1E167Q and hybridoma technology. These new mAbs recognize all subtypes of Stx1, but do not cross-react with any subtype of Stx2. In addition, they exhibited the ability to neutralize Stx1 toxicity in Vero cell assays. An optimized sandwich ELISA using of a pair of these mAbs had a limit of detection of 8.7 pg/mL, which is superior to any existing assay of this kind. Using one of these Stx1 mAbs in concert with Stx2 mAbs, the presence of hybrid Stx1/Stx2 toxin in the culture media of STEC strains that express both Stx1 and Stx2 was demonstrated.
Conclusions: These new mAbs provide a mix of availability, utility, versatility, and most importantly, increased sensitivity for detection of Stx1. There are numerous potential applications for these mAbs, including low-cost detection assays and therapeutic use. Analysis of hybrid Stx1/2 could provide new insights on the structure, activity, and cellular targets of Shiga toxins.