Staphylococcal enterotoxin gene cluster: prediction of enterotoxin (SEG and SEI) production and of the source of food poisoning based on v Saβ typing

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020 Dec 18;AEM.02662-20. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02662-20. Online ahead of print.


Currently only five (SEA-SEE) out of 27 known staphylococcal enterotoxins can be analyzed using commercially available kits.Six genes (seg, sei, sem, sen, seo, and seu), encoding putative and undetectable enterotoxins, are located on the enterotoxin gene cluster (egc) which is part of the Staphylococcus aureus genomic island vSaβ. These enterotoxins have been described as likely being involved in staphylococcal food poisoning outbreaks.The aim of the present study was to determine if whole genome data can be used for the prediction of staphylococcal egc enterotoxin production, particularly enterotoxin G (SEG) and enterotoxin I (SEI). For this purpose whole genome sequences of 75 Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) strains from different origins (food poisoning outbreaks, human, and animal) were investigated applying bioinformatics methods (phylogenetic analysis using the core genome and different alignments). SEG and SEI expression was tested in vitro using a sandwich ELISA method.Strains could be allocated to 14 different vSaβ types, each type being associated with a single clonal complex (CC). In addition the vSaβ type and CC were associated with the origin of the strain (human or cattle derived). The amount of SEG and SEI produced also correlated with the vSaβ type and the CC of a strain. The present results show promising indications that the in vitro production of SEG and SEI can be predicted based on the vSaβ type or CC of a strain.IMPORTANCE Beside the infection properties in human and animals, S. aureus can produce different enterotoxins in food. The enterotoxins can cause vomiting and diarrhea, often involving many people. Most of these outbreaks remain undiscovered as detection methods for enterotoxins are only available for a few enterotoxins, but not for the more recently discovered enterotoxin G (SEG) and I (SEI).In this study we show promising results that in vitro production of SEG and SEI can be predicted based on the whole genome sequencing data of a strain. In addition, this data could be used to find the source (human- or cattle-derived) of an outbreak strain, which is the key for a better understanding of the role SEG and SEI play in foodborne outbreaks caused by S. aureus.