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Comparative genomic analysis of Clostridium perfringens strains associated with necrotic enteritis of poultry

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Title: Comparative genomic analysis of Clostridium perfringens strains associated with necrotic enteritis of poultry
Author: Lepp, Dion
Department: Department of Pathobiology
Program: Pathobiology
Advisor: Prescott, John FGong, Joshua
Abstract: Necrotic enteritis (NE) is an economically important, but poorly understood, disease of poultry, typically caused by Clostridium perfringens Type A strains that carry the NetB toxin gene. The objective of the current research was to identify additional genes associated with NE-causing C. perfringens strains, and thus putatively involved in virulence. To identify novel NE-associated genes, the draft genome sequences of seven C. perfringens NE isolates and one isolate from a healthy chicken were compared against nine non-poultry genomes, and three highly-conserved NE-associated loci (NELoc-1 – 3) were identified. The largest locus (NELoc-1) encoded 37 putative proteins, including NetB, an internalin-like protein, a ricin-domain protein, two leukocidins, several cell-surface proteins and a cyclic-di-guanidine monophosphate (c-di-GMP) signaling system. NELoc-1 and -3 were both localized to separate plasmids that are both predicted to undergo conjugative transfer. These findings suggest that NE pathogenesis involves multiple virulence factors that are encoded on discrete pathogenicity loci, some of which are plasmid-borne. To further elucidate the genetic basis of NE pathogenicity, a microarray was developed based on two of the sequenced NE bird isolates, and used to assess the gene content of 54 isolates from chickens with and without NE. Variable genomic regions associated with netB-positive isolates were identified, including several chromosomal fitness-related loci, such as a carbohydrate ABC transporter, ferric-iron siderophore uptake system, and adhesion locus. Additional loci were related to plasmid maintenance. This study suggests that chromosomal background confers a selective advantage to NE-causing strains, possibly through mechanisms involving iron acquisition, carbohydrate metabolism and plasmid maintenance Finally, the relationship between netB presence, NetB production and host NE status was examined to assess the hypothesis that netB-positive isolates from healthy birds frequently do not express NetB toxin. The expression of NetB toxin was determined in 57 poultry isolates, demonstrating that NetB expression is closely correlated with the presence of netB, and independent of host disease status. In conclusion, these studies have identified a number of C. perfringens genes predicted to play a role in NE pathogenesis, and suggest that NE is a complex, multifactorial disease involving both host and plasmid-encoded virulence factors.
Date: 2012-08

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