JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

[Plasticity of bacterial genomes: pathogenicity islands and the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE)]

Petra Kirsch, Jörg Jores, Lothar H Wieler
Berliner und Münchener Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 2004, 117 (3): 116-29
15046458
Many bacterial virulence attributes, like toxins, adhesins, invasins, iron uptake systems, are encoded within specific regions of the bacterial genome. These in size varying regions are termed pathogenicity islands (PAIs) since they confer pathogenic properties to the respective micro-organism. Per definition PAIs are exclusively found in pathogenic strains and are often inserted near transfer-RNA genes. Nevertheless, non-pathogenic bacteria also possess foreign DNA elements that confer advantageous features, leading to improved fitness. These additional DNA elements as well as PAIs are termed genomic islands and were acquired during bacterial evolution. Significant G+C content deviation in pathogenicity islands with respect to the rest of the genome, the presence of direct repeat sequences at the flanking regions, the presence of integrase gene determinants as other mobility features,the particular insertion site (tRNA gene) as well as the observed genetic instability suggests that pathogenicity islands were acquired by horizontal gene transfer. PAIs are the fascinating proof of the plasticity of bacterial genomes. PAIs were originally described in human pathogenic Escherichia (E.) coli strains. In the meantime PAIs have been found in various pathogenic bacteria of humans, animals and even plants. The Locus of Enterocyte Effacement (LEE) is one particular widely distributed PAI of E coli. In addition, it also confers pathogenicity to the related species Citrobacter (C.) rodentium and Escherichia (E.) alvei. The LEE is an important virulence feature of several animal pathogens. It is an obligate PAI of all animal and human enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), and most enterohaemorrhegic E. coli (EHEC) also harbor the LEE. The LEE encodes a type III secretion system, an adhesion (intimin) that mediates the intimate contact between the bacterium and the epithelial cell, as well as various proteins which are secreted via the type III secretion system. The LEE encoded virulence features are responsible for the formation of so called attaching and effacing (AE) lesions in the intestinal epithelium. Due to its wide distribution in animal pathogens, LEE encoded antigens are suitable vaccine antigens. Acquisition and structure of the LEE pathogenicity island is the crucial point of numerous investigations. However, the evolution of the LEE, its origin and further spread in E. coli, are far from being resolved.

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