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Infect Immun. 2001 Oct;69(10):6284-95.

Epidemic population structure of Pseudomonas aeruginosa: evidence for a clone that is pathogenic to the eye and that has a distinct combination of virulence factors.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Aarhus, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.


The genetic structure of a population of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, isolated from patients with keratitis, endophthalmitis, and contact lens-associated red eye, contact lens storage cases, urine, ear, blood, lungs, wounds, feces, and the environment was determined by multilocus enzyme electrophoresis. The presence and characteristics of virulence factors were determined by restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis with DNA probes for lasA, lasB, aprA, exoS, exoT, exoU, and ctx and by zymography of staphylolysin, elastase, and alkaline protease. These analyses revealed an epidemic population structure of P. aeruginosa, characterized by frequent recombination in which a particular successful clone may increase, predominate for a time, and then disappear as a result of recombination. Epidemic clones were found among isolates from patients with keratitis. They were characterized by high activity of a hitherto-unrecognized size variant of elastase, high alkaline protease activity, and possession of the exoU gene encoding the cytotoxic exoenzyme U. These virulence determinants are not exclusive traits in strains causing keratitis, as strains with other properties may cause keratitis in the presence of predisposing conditions. There were no uniform patterns of characteristics of isolates from other types of infection; however, all strains from urinary tract infections possessed the exoS gene, all strains from environment and feces and the major part of keratitis and wound isolates exhibited high elastase and alkaline protease activity, and all strains from feces showed high staphylolysin activity, indicating that these virulence factors may be important in the pathogenesis of these infectious diseases.

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