Enteroinvasive Escherichia coli (EIEC) is a unique pathovar that has a pathogenic mechanism nearly indistinguishable from that of Shigella species. In contrast to isolates of the four Shigella species, which are widespread and can be frequent causes of human illness, EIEC causes far fewer reported illnesses each year. In this study, we analyzed the genome sequences of 20 EIEC isolates, including 14 first described in this study. Phylogenomic analysis of the EIEC genomes demonstrated that 17 of the isolates are present in three distinct lineages that contained only EIEC genomes, compared to reference genomes from each of the E. coli pathovars and Shigella species. Comparative genomic analysis identified genes that were unique to each of the three identified EIEC lineages. While many of the EIEC lineage-specific genes have unknown functions, those with predicted functions included a colicin and putative proteins involved in transcriptional regulation or carbohydrate metabolism. In silico detection of the Shigella virulence plasmid (pINV), which is essential for the invasion of host cells, demonstrated that a form of pINV was present in nearly all EIEC genomes, but the Mxi-Spa-Ipa region of the plasmid that encodes the invasion-associated proteins was absent from several of the EIEC isolates. The comparative genomic findings in this study support the hypothesis that multiple EIEC lineages have evolved independently from multiple distinct lineages of E. coli via the acquisition of the Shigella virulence plasmid and, in some cases, the Shigella pathogenicity islands.
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