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Mol Cell Probes. 2003 Feb;17(1):25-32.

Detection of type III secretion genes as a general indicator of bacterial virulence.

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Institute of Veterinary Bacteriology, University of Bern, Langgassstrasse 122, Bern CH-3012, Switzerland.


Type III secretion systems of Gram-negative bacteria are specific export machineries for virulence factors which allow their translocation to eukaryotic cells. Since they correlate with bacterial pathogenicity, their presence is used as a general indicator of bacterial virulence. By comparing the genetic relationship of the major type III secretion systems we found the family of genes encoding the inner-membrane channel proteins represented by the Yersinia enterocolitica lcrD (synonym yscV) and its homologous genes from other species an ideal component for establishing a general detection approach for type III secretion systems. Based on the genes of the lcrD family we developed gene probes for Gram-negative human, animal and plant pathogens. The probes comprise lcrD from Y. enterocolitica, sepA from enteropathogenic Escherichia coli, invA from Salmonella typhimurium, mxiA from Shigella sonnei, as well as hrcV from Erwinia amylovora. In addition we included as a control probe the flhA gene from E. coli K-12 to validate our approach. FlhA is part of the flagellar export apparatus which shows a high degree of similarity with type III secretions systems, but is not involved in pathogenicity. The probes were evaluated by screening a series of pathogenic as well as non-pathogenic bacteria. The probes detected type III secretion in pathogens where such systems were either known or were expected to be present, whereas no positive hybridization signals could be found in non-pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-positive bacteria were devoid of known type III secretion systems. No interference due to the genetic similarity between the type III secretion system and the flagellar export apparatus was observed. However, potential type III secretion systems could be detected in bacteria where no such systems have been described yet. The presented approach provides therefore a useful tool for the assessment of the virulence potential of bacterial isolates of human, animal and plant origin. Moreover, it is a powerful means for a first safety assessment of poorly characterized strains intended to be used in biotechnological applications.

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