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Infect Immun. 1998 Feb;66(2):480-5.

Prevalence of the "high-pathogenicity island" of Yersinia species among Escherichia coli strains that are pathogenic to humans.

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  • 1Max von Pettenkofer Institut, Munich, Germany.


The fyuA-irp gene cluster contributes to the virulence of highly pathogenic Yersinia (Yersinia pestis, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, and Yersinia enterocolitica 1B). The cluster encodes an iron uptake system mediated by the siderophore yersiniabactin and reveals features of a pathogenicity island. Two evolutionary lineages of this "high pathogenicity island" (HPI) can be distinguished on the basis of DNA sequence comparison: a Y. pestis group and a Y. enterocolitica group. In this study we demonstrate that the HPI of the Y. pestis evolutionary group is disseminated among species of the family Enterobacteriaceae which are pathogenic to humans. It prevails in enteroaggregative Escherichia coli and in E. coli blood culture isolates (93 and 80%, respectively), but is rarely found in enteropathogenic E. coli, enteroinvasive E. coli, and enterotoxigenic E. coli isolates. In contrast, the HPI was absent from enterohemorrhagic E. coli, Shigella, and Salmonella enterica strains investigated. Polypeptides encoded by the fyuA, irp1, and irp2 genes located on the HPI could be detected in E. coli strains pathogenic to humans. However, these E. coli strains showed a reduced sensitivity to the bacteriocin pesticin, whose uptake is mediated by the FyuA receptor. Escherichia strains do not possess the hms gene locus thought to be a part of the HPI of Y. pestis. Deletions of the juA-irp gene cluster affecting solely the fyuA part of the HPI were identified in 3% of the E. coli strains tested. These results suggest horizontal transfer of the HPI between Y. pestis and some pathogenic E. coli strains.

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