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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 May;77(10):3255-67. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03023-10. Epub 2011 Mar 18.

Characterization of putative virulence genes on the related RepFIB plasmids harbored by Cronobacter spp.

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Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Laurel, MD, USA.


Cronobacter spp. are emerging neonatal pathogens that cause meningitis, sepsis, and necrotizing enterocolitis. The genus Chronobacter consists of six species: C. sakazakii, C. malonaticus, C. muytjensii, C. turicensis, C. dublinensis, and Cronobacter genomospecies group 1. Whole-genome sequencing of C. sakazakii BAA-894 and C. turicensis z3032 revealed that they harbor similarly sized plasmids identified as pESA3 (131 kb) and pCTU1 (138 kb), respectively. In silico analysis showed that both plasmids encode a single RepFIB-like origin of replication gene, repA, as well as two iron acquisition systems (eitCBAD and iucABCD/iutA). In a chrome azurol S agar diffusion assay, it was demonstrated that siderophore activity was associated with the presence of pESA3 or pCTU1. Additionally, pESA3 contains a cpa (Cronobacter plasminogen activator) gene and a 17-kb type 6 secretion system (T6SS) locus, while pCTU1 contains a 27-kb region encoding a filamentous hemagglutinin gene (fhaB), its specifc transporter gene (fhaC), and associated putative adhesins (FHA locus), suggesting that these are virulence plasmids. In a repA-targeted PCR assay, 97% of 229 Cronobacter species isolates were found to possess a homologous RepFIB plasmid. All repA PCR-positive strains were also positive for the eitCBAD and iucABCD/iutA iron acquisition systems. However, the presence of cpa, T6SS, and FHA loci depended on species, demonstrating a strong correlation with the presence of virulence traits, plasmid type, and species. These results support the hypothesis that these plasmids have evolved from a single archetypical plasmid backbone through the cointegration, or deletion, of specific virulence traits in each species.

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