A tool based on Ligation Detection Reaction-Universal Array (LDR-UA) for the characterization of VTEC by identification of virulence-associated and serogroup-specific genes.
Verocytoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) are zoonotic pathogens whose natural reservoir is represented by ruminants, particularly cattle. Infections are mainly acquired by consumption of undercooked contaminated food of animal origin, contact with infected animals and contaminated environment. VTEC O157 is the most frequently isolated serogroup from cases of human disease, however, other VTEC serogroups, such as O26, O111, O145 and O103, are increasingly reported as causing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) worldwide. The identification of VTEC is troublesome, hindering the development of effective prevention strategies. In fact, VTEC are morphologically indistinguishable from harmless E. coli and their pathogenic potential is not strictly dependent on the serogroup, but relies on the presence of a collection of virulence genes. We developed a diagnostic tool for VTEC based on the Ligation Detection Reaction coupled to Universal Array (LDR-UA) for the simultaneous identification of virulence factors and serogroup-associated genes. The method includes the investigation of 40 sites located in 13 fragments from 12 genes (sodCF1/F2, adfO, terB, ehxA, eae, vtx1, vtx2, ihp1, wzx, wbdI, rfbE, dnaK) and was evaluated by performing a trial on a collection of 67 E. coli strains, both VTEC and VT-negative E. coli, as well as on 25 isolates belonging to other related species. Results of this study showed that the LDR-UA technique was specific in identifying the target microorganism. Moreover, due to its higher throughput, the LDR-UA can be a valid and cheaper alternative to real time PCR-based (rt-PCR) methods for VTEC identification.