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J Med Microbiol. 2005 Mar;54(Pt 3):217-24.

Listeria monocytogenes in the Chinese food system: strain characterization through partial actA sequencing and tissue-culture pathogenicity assays.

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  • 1College of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Yangzhou University, 225009, PR China.


Human listeriosis is generally caused by consumption of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods that are stored for extended periods of time at refrigeration temperatures and that permit the growth of the causative agent, Listeria monocytogenes. Food-consumption patterns in China are undergoing rapid changes and more regular consumption of refrigerated-storage RTE foods may increase the risk of human listeriosis. In total, 40 L. monocytogenes isolates were obtained from food (n=32) and sewage (n=6) samples and from two human listeriosis cases that occurred in China. All isolates were characterized into molecular subtypes by DNA sequencing of the 597 bp 3'-terminal region of the virulence gene actA. Sequence data were used to classify the 40 Chinese L. monocytogenes isolates into sequence types and phylogenetic lineages, and to compare the sequence types of the Chinese isolates with those of isolates from the USA. Phylogenetic analyses showed that the Chinese isolates could be separated into two genetic lineages, with 14 and 26 isolates belonging to lineages I and II, respectively. Lineage II could be subdivided further into two clusters, IIA and IIB. Lineages I and II were identical to the two lineages described previously among US L. monocytogenes isolates. In total, 14 actA sequence types could be differentiated among the 40 Chinese L. monocytogenes isolates; two specific actA sequence types were found among both Chinese and US isolates. Isolates belonging to lineage II showed a significantly lower ability to invade and multiply within human intestinal epithelial Caco-2 cells than lineage I isolates. It was concluded that DNA sequencing of the 3'-terminal region of actA appears to be an effective method for rapid subtype and lineage classification of L. monocytogenes. As strains belonging to lineages I and II have previously been found among isolates from Europe and North America, these results show that L. monocytogenes clonal groups found in China are very similar to those found in the USA. Many L. monocytogenes strains may thus represent globally distributed clonal types. Together with the first description of two human listeriosis cases in China, these data indicate that changes in food-distribution and -consumption patterns in China and other countries will probably lead to the emergence of human listeriosis as a food-safety issue, as virulent strains of this pathogen appear to be present in the Chinese food supply.

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