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Emerg Infect Dis. 2000 Sep-Oct; 6(5): 458–465.
PMCID: PMC2627954

Toxin gene expression by shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli: the role of antibiotics and the bacterial SOS response.


Toxin synthesis by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) appears to be coregulated through induction of the integrated bacteriophage that encodes the toxin gene. Phage production is linked to induction of the bacterial SOS response, a ubiquitous response to DNA damage. SOS-inducing antimicrobial agents, particularly the quinolones, trimethoprim, and furazolidone, were shown to induce toxin gene expression in studies of their effects on a reporter STEC strain carrying a chromosome-based stx2::lacZ transcriptional fusion. At antimicrobial levels above those required to inhibit bacterial replication, these agents are potent inducers (up to 140-fold) of the transcription of type 2 Shiga toxin genes (stx2); therefore, they should be avoided in treating patients with potential or confirmed STEC infections. Other agents (20 studied) and incubation conditions produced significant but less striking effects on stx2 transcription; positive and negative influences were observed. SOS-mediated induction of toxin synthesis also provides a mechanism that could exacerbate STEC infections and increase dissemination of stx genes. These features and the use of SOS-inducing antibiotics in clinical practice and animal husbandry may account for the recent emergence of STEC disease.

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