Shiga toxins are the main virulence factors of a group of Escherichia coli strains [Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)] that cause severe human diseases, such as haemorrhagic colitis and haemolytic-uraemic syndrome. The Shiga toxin family comprises several toxin subtypes, which have been differentially related to clinical manifestations. In addition, the phages that carry the Shiga toxin genes (stx phages) are also diverse. These phages play an important role not only in the dissemination of Shiga toxin genes and the emergence of new STEC strains, but also in the regulation of Shiga toxin production. Consequently, differences in stx phages may affect the dissemination of stx genes as well as the virulence of STEC strains. In addition to presenting an overview of Shiga toxins and stx phages, in this review we highlight current knowledge about the diversity of stx phages, with emphasis on its impact on STEC virulence. We consider that this diversity should be taken into account when developing STEC infection treatments and diagnostic approaches, and when conducting STEC control in reservoirs.
© 2015 The Authors.