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Infect Immun. Dec 1993; 61(12): 5106–5114.
PMCID: PMC281289

Characterization of plasmid-borne afa-3 gene clusters encoding afimbrial adhesins expressed by Escherichia coli strains associated with intestinal or urinary tract infections.


The afa gene clusters encode afimbrial adhesins (AFA) that are expressed by uropathogenic and diarrhea-associated Escherichia coli strains and belong to a family of hemagglutinins recognizing the Dr blood group antigen as a receptor. This family so far includes AFA-I and AFA-III as well as the Dr and F1845 adhesins (B. Nowicki, A. Labigne, S. Moseley, R. Hull, S. Hull, and J. Moulds, Infect. Immun. 58:279-281, 1990). Reported in this work is the genetic organization of the afa-3 gene cluster cloned from a uropathogenic E. coli strain (A30) which expressed a subtype of AFA designated AFA-III. The amino acid sequence of AFA-III was deduced from the nucleotide sequence of the afaE3 gene and was found to be highly homologous to that of the Dr adhesin (98.1% identity). A polymerase chain reaction assay was developed to detect the presence of afa-3 gene clusters in E. coli strains. Study of the genetic support of the afa-3 gene clusters in the strains which showed positive amplification revealed that they were always located on large, 100-kb plasmids whether the strains originated from patients with cystitis or with diarrhea. Moreover, the cloned afa-3 gene clusters from A30 and from the diarrhea-associated strain AL845 appeared to be carried by 9-kb plasmid regions which displayed a similar genetic organization. Chloramphenicol was reported to be a potent inhibitor of receptor binding by the Dr adhesin (Nowicki et al., Infect. Immun. 58:279-281, 1990). AFA-III expressed by strains AL845 and AL847 appeared to mediate, like the Dr adhesin, chloramphenicol-sensitive hemagglutination, whereas AFA-III produced by A30 conferred chloramphenicol-resistant adherence. A comparison of the sequences of these four proteins indicated that the amino acid at position 52 of the processed AFA could be part of the receptor-binding domain.

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