The Arsenic Resistance-Associated Listeria Genomic Island LGI2 Exhibits Sequence and Integration Site Diversity and a Propensity for Three Listeria monocytogenes Clones with Enhanced Virulence

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Oct 17;83(21):e01189-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01189-17. Print 2017 Nov 1.


In the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, arsenic resistance is encountered primarily in serotype 4b clones considered to have enhanced virulence and is associated with an arsenic resistance gene cluster within a 35-kb chromosomal region, Listeria genomic island 2 (LGI2). LGI2 was first identified in strain Scott A and includes genes putatively involved in arsenic and cadmium resistance, DNA integration, conjugation, and pathogenicity. However, the genomic localization and sequence content of LGI2 remain poorly characterized. Here we investigated 85 arsenic-resistant L. monocytogenes strains, mostly of serotype 4b. All but one of the 70 serotype 4b strains belonged to clonal complex 1 (CC1), CC2, and CC4, three major clones associated with enhanced virulence. PCR analysis suggested that 53 strains (62.4%) harbored an island highly similar to LGI2 of Scott A, frequently (42/53) in the same location as Scott A (LMOf2365_2257 homolog). Random-primed PCR and whole-genome sequencing revealed seven novel insertion sites, mostly internal to chromosomal coding sequences, among strains harboring LGI2 outside the LMOf2365_2257 homolog. Interestingly, many CC1 strains harbored a noticeably diversified LGI2 (LGI2-1) in a unique location (LMOf2365_0902 homolog) and with a novel additional gene. With few exceptions, the tested LGI2 genes were not detected in arsenic-resistant strains of serogroup 1/2, which instead often harbored a Tn554-associated arsenic resistance determinant not encountered in serotype 4b. These findings indicate that in L. monocytogenes, LGI2 has a propensity for certain serotype 4b clones, exhibits content diversity, and is highly promiscuous, suggesting an ability to mobilize various accessory genes into diverse chromosomal loci.IMPORTANCEListeria monocytogenes is widely distributed in the environment and causes listeriosis, a foodborne disease with high mortality and morbidity. Arsenic and other heavy metals can powerfully shape the populations of human pathogens with pronounced environmental lifestyles such as L. monocytogenes Arsenic resistance is encountered primarily in certain serotype 4b clones considered to have enhanced virulence and is associated with a large chromosomal island, Listeria genomic island 2 (LGI2). LGI2 also harbors a cadmium resistance cassette and genes putatively involved in DNA integration, conjugation, and pathogenicity. Our findings indicate that LGI2 exhibits pronounced content plasticity and is capable of transferring various accessory genes into diverse chromosomal locations. LGI2 may serve as a paradigm on how exposure to a potent environmental toxicant such as arsenic may have dynamically selected for arsenic-resistant subpopulations in certain clones of L. monocytogenes which also contribute significantly to disease.

Keywords: Listeria monocytogenes; arsenic resistance; genomic island; heavy metal resistance; hypervirulent clones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genomic Islands*
  • Humans
  • Listeria monocytogenes / genetics*
  • Listeria monocytogenes / metabolism
  • Listeria monocytogenes / pathogenicity*
  • Listeriosis / microbiology*
  • Virulence


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Arsenic