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Escherichia Coli O104:H4 Pathogenesis: An Enteroaggregative E. coli/Shiga Toxin-Producing E. Coli Explosive Cocktail of High Virulence

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Review

Escherichia Coli O104:H4 Pathogenesis: An Enteroaggregative E. coli/Shiga Toxin-Producing E. Coli Explosive Cocktail of High Virulence

Fernando Navarro-Garcia. Microbiol Spectr.

Abstract

A major outbreak caused by Escherichia coli of serotype O104:H4 spread throughout Europe in 2011. This large outbreak was caused by an unusual strain that is most similar to enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) of serotype O104:H4. A significant difference, however, is the presence of a prophage encoding the Shiga toxin, which is characteristic of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) strains. This combination of genomic features, associating characteristics from both EAEC and EHEC, represents a new pathotype. The 2011 E. coli O104:H4 outbreak of hemorrhagic diarrhea in Germany is an example of the explosive cocktail of high virulence and resistance that can emerge in this species. A total of 46 deaths, 782 cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, and 3,128 cases of acute gastroenteritis were attributed to this new clone of EAEC/EHEC. In addition, recent identification in France of similar O104:H4 clones exhibiting the same virulence factors suggests that the EHEC O104:H4 pathogen has become endemically established in Europe after the end of the outbreak. EAEC strains of serotype O104:H4 contain a large set of virulence-associated genes regulated by the AggR transcription factor. They include, among other factors, the pAA plasmid genes encoding the aggregative adherence fimbriae, which anchor the bacterium to the intestinal mucosa (stacked-brick adherence pattern on epithelial cells). Furthermore, sequencing studies showed that horizontal genetic exchange allowed for the emergence of the highly virulent Shiga toxin-producing EAEC O104:H4 strain that caused the German outbreak. This article discusses the role these virulence factors could have in EAEC/EHEC O104:H4 pathogenesis.

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