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J Bacteriol. 2007 Dec;189(23):8528-36. Epub 2007 Sep 28.

A new O-antigen gene cluster has a key role in the virulence of the Escherichia coli meningitis clone O45:K1:H7.

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  • 1Service de Microbiologie, Hôpital Robert Debré, 48 blvd. Sérurier, 75395 Paris cedex 19, France.


A new highly pathogenic clone of Escherichia coli meningitis strains harboring the unusual serogroup O45 has recently emerged in France. To gain insight into the pathogenicity of this new clone, we investigated the possible role of antigen O45 in the virulence of strain S88 (O45:K1:H7), representative of this emerging clone. We first showed that the S88 O-antigen gene cluster sequence differs from that of O45 in the reference strain E. coli 96-3285, suggesting that the two O45 polysaccharides, while probably sharing a community of epitopes, represent two different antigens. The unique functional organization of the two O-antigen gene clusters and the low DNA sequence homology of the orthologous genes suggest that the two loci originated from a common ancestor and have since undergone multiple recombination events. Phylogenetic analysis based on the flanking gene gnd sequences indicates that the S88 antigen O45 (O45(S88)) gene cluster may have been acquired, at least in part, from another member of the Enterobacteriaceae. Mutagenesis of the O45(S88) antigen gene cluster was used for functional analysis of the loci and revealed the crucial role of the O polysaccharide in S88 virulence in a neonatal rat meningitis model. We also developed a PCR method to specifically identify the O45(S88) antigen gene cluster. Together, our findings suggest that horizontal acquisition of a new O-antigen gene cluster, at least partly from another species, may have been a key event in the emergence and virulence of the E. coli O45:K1:H7 clone in France.

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