Genetic Variations in Shiga Toxin-Producing Abilities of Bovine and Human Escherichia coli O157:H7


T. G. Nagaraja.Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506 5606, USA.
Tel.: 785 532 1214; Fax: 785 532 4851;


Cattle are a primary reservoir of Escherichia coli O157:H7, a major foodborne pathogen. The organism causes haemorrhagic colitis which can lead to serious complications, including haemolytic–uraemic syndrome. Although E. coli O157:H7 is widely prevalent in cattle and cattle environments, the number of human cases remain relatively low, suggesting possible strain diversity and differences in virulence between human and bovine strains. Shiga toxins, Stx1 and Stx2, are the major virulence factors. Differences in Stx2 production between human and bovine strains have been demonstrated previously, and isolates possessing the stx2 gene, but not producing Stx2 [toxin non-producing (TNP) strains] have been identified. In this study, 150 isolates (56 human, 94 bovine) were tested by PCR for stx2 upstream regions associated with TNP and the Q933 gene, which has been previously associated with toxin production. A reverse passive latex agglutination test was used to evaluate 107 isolates (50 human, 57 bovine) for Stx1 and Stx2 production. The percentages of human and bovine isolates positive for presence of the TNP regions were similar (57.1% and 53.1% respectively), while a higher percentage of human isolates was positive for Q933 gene (89.3% versus 54.3%). Stx2 production of ≥1 : 8 was found in 86.0% of human isolates compared with 26.3% of bovine isolates. Bovine isolates with the presence of the TNP regions were associated with significantly lower Stx2 production (P < 0.05), while the Q933 gene was associated with higher Stx2 production (P < 0.05). However, the presence of the TNP region was not associated (P > 0.05) with low Stx2 production in human isolates. Therefore, Q933 was a better indicator of high Stx2 production by human and bovine isolates and may be a useful screening method to assess their potential to cause human disease.