Further Insights into the Toxicity of Bacillus cytotoxicus Based on Toxin Gene Profiling and Vero Cell Cytotoxicity Assays

Toxins (Basel). 2021 Mar 24;13(4):234. doi: 10.3390/toxins13040234.


Bacillus cytotoxicus belongs to the Bacillus cereus group that also comprises the foodborne pathogen Bacillus cereus sensu stricto, Bacillus anthracis causing anthrax, as well as the biopesticide Bacillus thuringiensis. The first B. cytotoxicus was isolated in the context of a severe food poisoning outbreak leading to fatal cases of diarrheal disease. Subsequent characterization of the outbreak strain led to the conclusion that this Bacillus strain was highly cytotoxic and eventually resulted in the description of a novel species, whose name reflects the observed toxicity: B. cytotoxicus. However, only a few isolates of this species have been characterized with regard to their cytotoxic potential and the role of B. cytotoxicus as a causative agent of food poisoning remains largely unclear. Hence, the aim of this study was to gain further insights into the toxicity of B. cytotoxicus. To this end, 19 isolates were obtained from mashed potato powders and characterized by toxin gene profiling and Vero cell cytotoxicity assays. All isolates harbored the cytK1 (cytotoxin K1) gene and species-specific variants of the nhe (non-hemolytic enterotoxin) gene. The isolates exhibited low or no toxicity towards Vero cells. Thus, this study indicates that the cytotoxic potential of B. cytotoxicus may be potentially lower than initially assumed.

Keywords: Vero cell assay; cytK; enterotoxins; mashed potato powder; nhe variant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacillus / genetics
  • Bacillus / metabolism*
  • Bacillus / pathogenicity
  • Cell Survival
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Enterotoxins / genetics
  • Enterotoxins / metabolism*
  • Food Handling
  • Food Microbiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Kidney / microbiology*
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Solanum tuberosum / microbiology*
  • Transcriptome*
  • Vero Cells


  • Enterotoxins

Supplementary concepts

  • Bacillus cytotoxicus