Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC), which belongs to the attaching and effacing diarrheagenic E. coli strains, is a major causative agent of life-threatening diarrhea in infants in developing countries. Most EPEC isolates correspond to certain O serotypes; however, many strains are nontypeable. Two EPEC strains, EPEC001 and EPEC080, which could not be serotyped during routine detection, were isolated. In this study, we conducted an in-depth characterization of their putative O-antigen gene clusters (O-AGCs) and also performed constructed mutagenesis of the O-AGCs for functional analysis of O-antigen (OAg) synthesis. Sequence analysis revealed that the occurrence of O-AGCs in EPEC001 and E. coli O132 may be mediated by recombination between them, and EPEC080 and E. coli O2/O50 might acquire each O-AGC from uncommon ancestors. We also indicated that OAgknockout bacteria were highly adhesive in vitro, except for the EPEC001 wzy derivative, whose adherent capability was less than that of its wild-type strain, providing direct evidence that OAg plays a key role in EPEC pathogenesis. Together, we identified two EPEC O serotypes in silico and experimentally, and we also studied the adherent capabilities of their OAgs, which highlighted the fundamental and pathogenic role of OAg in EPEC.
Keywords: Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli; O-antigen; O-antigen gene cluster; adhesion; serotype.