Genetic Diversity of the fliC Genes Encoding the Flagellar Antigen H19 of Escherichia coli and Application to the Specific Identification of Enterohemorrhagic E. coli O121:H19

Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O121:H19 belong to a specific clonal type distinct from other classical EHEC and major enteropathogenic E. coli groups and is regarded as one of the major EHEC serogroups involved in severe infections in humans. Sequencing of the fliC genes associated with the flagellar antigen H19 (fliCH19) revealed the genetic diversity of the fliCH19 gene sequences in E. coli. A cluster analysis of 12 fliCH19 sequences, 4 from O121 and 8 from non-O121 E. coli strains, revealed five different genotypes. All O121:H19 strains fell into one cluster, whereas a second cluster was formed by five non-O121:H19 strains. Cluster 1 and cluster 2 strains differ by 27 single nucleotide exchanges in their fliCH19 genes (98.5% homology). Based on allele discrimination of the fliCH19 genes, a real-time PCR test was designed for specific identification of EHEC O121:H19. The O121 fliCH19 PCR tested negative in 73 E. coli H19 strains that belonged to serogroups other than O121, including 28 different O groups, O-nontypeable H19, and O-rough:H19 strains. The O121 fliCH19 PCR reacted with all 16 tested O121:H19 strains and 1 O-rough:H19 strain which was positive for the O121 wzx gene. A cross-reaction was observed only with E. coli H32 strains which share sequence similarities in the target region of the O121 fliCH19 PCR. The combined use of O-antigen genotyping (O121 wzx) and the detection of O121 fliCH19 allele type contributes to improving the identification and molecular serotyping of EHEC O121:H19 motile and nonmotile strains and variants of these strains lacking stx genes.


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