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Identification of Novel Linear Megaplasmids Carrying a ß-Lactamase Gene in Neurotoxigenic Clostridium butyricum Type E Strains

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021706
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genomics
  • Microbiology
  • Bacterial Pathogens
  • Microbial Evolution
  • Microbial Pathogens
  • Biology
  • Design
  • Medicine


Since the first isolation of type E botulinum toxin-producing Clostridium butyricum from two infant botulism cases in Italy in 1984, this peculiar microorganism has been implicated in different forms of botulism worldwide. By applying particular pulsed-field gel electrophoresis run conditions, we were able to show for the first time that ten neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains originated from Italy and China have linear megaplasmids in their genomes. At least four different megaplasmid sizes were identified among the ten neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains. Each isolate displayed a single sized megaplasmid that was shown to possess a linear structure by ATP-dependent exonuclease digestion. Some of the neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains possessed additional smaller circular plasmids. In order to investigate the genetic content of the newly identified megaplasmids, selected gene probes were designed and used in Southern hybridization experiments. Our results revealed that the type E botulinum neurotoxin gene was chromosome-located in all neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains. Similar results were obtained with the 16S rRNA, the tetracycline tet(P) and the lincomycin resistance protein lmrB gene probes. A specific mobA gene probe only hybridized to the smaller plasmids of the Italian C. butyricum type E strains. Of note, a ß-lactamase gene probe hybridized to the megaplasmids of eight neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains, of which seven from clinical sources and the remaining one from a food implicated in foodborne botulism, whereas this ß-lactam antibiotic resistance gene was absent form the megaplasmids of the two soil strains examined. The widespread occurrence among C. butyricum type E strains associated to human disease of linear megaplasmids harboring an antibiotic resistance gene strongly suggests that the megaplasmids could have played an important role in the emergence of C. butyricum type E as a human pathogen.

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