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BMC Microbiol. 2007 May 21;7:43.

Toxin production in a rare and genetically remote cluster of strains of the Bacillus cereus group.

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Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Department of Food Safety and Infection Biology, Oslo, Norway. <>



Three enterotoxins are implicated in diarrhoeal food poisoning due to Bacillus cereus: Haemolysin BL (Hbl), Non-haemolytic enterotoxin (Nhe), and Cytotoxin K (CytK). Toxin gene profiling and assays for detection of toxin-producing stains have been used in attempts to evaluate the enterotoxic potential of B. cereus group strains. B. cereus strain NVH 391/98, isolated from a case of fatal enteritis, was genetically remote from other B. cereus group strains. This strain lacked the genes encoding Hbl and Nhe, but contains CytK-1. The high virulence of this strain is thought to be due to the greater cytotoxic activity of CytK-1 compared to CytK-2, and to a high level of cytK expression. To date, only three strains containing cytK-1 have been identified; B. cereus strains NVH 391/98, NVH 883/00, and INRA AF2.


A novel gene variant encoding Nhe was identified in these three strains, which had an average of 80% identity in protein sequence with previously identified Nhe toxins. While culture supernatants containing CytK and Nhe from NVH 391/98 and INRA AF2 were highly cytotoxic, NVH 883/00 expressed little or no CytK and Nhe and was non-cytotoxic. Comparative sequence and expression studies indicated that neither the PlcR/PapR quorum sensing system, nor theYvrGH and YvfTU two-component systems, were responsible for the observed difference in toxin production. Additionally, phylogenetic analysis of 13 genes showed that NVH 391/98, NVH 883/00, and INRA AF2 comprise a novel cluster of strains genetically distant from other B. cereus group strains.


Due to its divergent sequence, the novel nhe operon had previously not been detected in NVH 391/98 using PCR and several monoclonal antibodies. Thus, toxigenic profiling based on the original nhe sequence will fail to detect the toxin in this group of strains. The observation that strain NVH 883/00 carries cytK-1 but is non-cytotoxic indicates that the detection of this gene variant is not a sufficient criterion for identification of highly cytotoxic strains. The presence of the novel nhe operon and the cytK-1 gene variant in this cluster of strains reflect their phylogenetically remote relationship towards other B. cereus group strains.

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