Comparative Genomics of Atypical Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli from Kittens and Children Identifies Bacterial Factors Associated with Virulence in Kittens

Infect Immun. 2021 Feb 16;89(3):e00619-20. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00619-20. Print 2021 Feb 16.


Typical enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (tEPEC) is a leading cause of diarrhea and associated death in children worldwide. Atypical EPEC (aEPEC) lacks the plasmid encoding bundle-forming pili and is considered less virulent, but the molecular mechanism of virulence is poorly understood. We recently identified kittens as a host for aEPEC where intestinal epithelial colonization was associated with diarrheal disease and death. The purposes of this study were to (i) determine the genomic similarity between kitten aEPEC and human aEPEC isolates and (ii) identify genotypic or phenotypic traits associated with virulence in kitten aEPEC. We observed no differences between kitten and human aEPEC in core genome content or gene cluster sequence identities, and no distinguishing genomic content was observed between aEPEC isolates from kittens with nonclinical colonization (NC) versus those with lethal infection (LI). Variation in adherence patterns and ability to aggregate actin in cultured cells mirrored descriptions of human aEPEC. The aEPEC isolated from kittens with LI were significantly more motile than isolates from kittens with NC. Kittens may serve as a reservoir for aEPEC that is indistinguishable from human aEPEC isolates and may provide a needed comparative animal model for the study of aEPEC pathogenesis. Motility seems to be an important factor in pathogenesis of LI associated with aEPEC in kittens.

Keywords: EPEC; animal model; enteropathogenic E. coli; phylogenetic analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Cats / genetics*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genomics*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Serogroup
  • Serotyping*
  • Virulence / genetics*


  • Escherichia coli Proteins