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PLoS One. 2013 Nov 12;8(11):e78404. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078404. eCollection 2013.

Surface-layer protein A (SlpA) is a major contributor to host-cell adherence of Clostridium difficile.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois, United States of America.


Clostridium difficile is a leading cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and a significant etiologic agent of healthcare-associated infections. The mechanisms of attachment and host colonization of C. difficile are not well defined. We hypothesize that non-toxin bacterial factors, especially those facilitating the interaction of C. difficile with the host gut, contribute to the initiation of C. difficile infection. In this work, we optimized a completely anaerobic, quantitative, epithelial-cell adherence assay for vegetative C. difficile cells, determined adherence proficiency under multiple conditions, and investigated C. difficile surface protein variation via immunological and DNA sequencing approaches focused on Surface-Layer Protein A (SlpA). In total, thirty-six epidemic-associated and non-epidemic associated C. difficile clinical isolates were tested in this study, and displayed intra- and inter-clade differences in attachment that were unrelated to toxin production. SlpA was a major contributor to bacterial adherence, and individual subunits of the protein (varying in sequence between strains) mediated host-cell attachment to different extents. Pre-treatment of host cells with crude or purified SlpA subunits, or incubation of vegetative bacteria with anti-SlpA antisera significantly reduced C. difficile attachment. SlpA-mediated adherence-interference correlated with the attachment efficiency of the strain from which the protein was derived, with maximal blockage observed when SlpA was derived from highly adherent strains. In addition, SlpA-containing preparations from a non-toxigenic strain effectively blocked adherence of a phylogenetically distant, epidemic-associated strain, and vice-versa. Taken together, these results suggest that SlpA plays a major role in C. difficile infection, and that it may represent an attractive target for interventions aimed at abrogating gut colonization by this pathogen.

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