Implications of stx loss for clinical diagnostics of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli

Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2018 Dec;37(12):2361-2370. doi: 10.1007/s10096-018-3384-6. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


The dynamics related to the loss of stx genes from Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli remain unclear. Current diagnostic procedures have shortcomings in the detection and identification of STEC. This is partly owing to the fact that stx genes may be lost during an infection or in the laboratory. The aim of the present study was to provide new insight into in vivo and in vitro stx loss in order to improve diagnostic procedures. Results from the study support the theory that loss of stx is a strain-related phenomenon and not induced by patient factors. It was observed that one strain could lose stx both in vivo and in vitro. Whole genome comparison of stx-positive and stx-negative isolates from the same patient revealed that different genomic rearrangements, such as complete or partial loss of the parent prophage, may be factors in the loss of stx. Of diagnostic interest, it was shown that patients can be co-infected with different E. coli pathotypes. Therefore, identification of eae-positive, but stx-negative isolates should not be interpreted as "Shiga toxin-lost" E. coli without further testing. Growth and recovery of STEC were supported by different selective agar media for different strains, arguing for inclusion of several media in STEC diagnostics.

Keywords: EHEC diagnostics; Phage excision; STEC diagnostics; Selective culture media; stx-loss.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Culture Media / chemistry
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / diagnosis*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Microbiological Techniques
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Shiga Toxin / genetics*
  • Shiga-Toxigenic Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Shiga-Toxigenic Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • Virulence Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Culture Media
  • Virulence Factors
  • Shiga Toxin