Some Listeria monocytogenes outbreak strains demonstrate significantly reduced invasion, inlA transcript levels, and swarming motility in vitro

A. J. Roberts, S. K. Williams, M. Wiedmann, K. K. Nightingale

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Listeria monocytogenes can cause a severe invasive food-borne disease known as listeriosis, and large outbreaks of this disease occur occasionally. Based on molecular-subtype data, epidemic clone (EC) strains have been defined, including ECI and ECIa, which have caused listeriosis outbreaks on different continents. While a number of molecular-subtyping studies of outbreak strains have been reported, few comprehensive data sets of virulence-associated characteristics of these strains are available. We assembled a set of human clinical isolates from 15 outbreaks that occurred worldwide between 1975 and 2002. Initial characterization of these strains showed significant variation in the ability to invade human Caco-2 intestinal epithelial cells and HepG2 hepatic cells; four strains showed consistently reduced invasion in both cell lines. DNA sequencing of inlA, which encodes a protein required for efficient Caco-2 and HepG2 invasion, showed that none of the invasion-attenuated strains contained known virulence-attenuating mutations in inlA. Phylogenetic analyses of inlA sequences revealed a well-supported clade containing a fully invasive ECI strain and three invasion-attenuated ECI strains, along with a fully invasive ECIa strain and an invasion-attenuated ECIa strain. Of the four invasion-attenuated strains, one strain showed both reduced inlA transcript levels and impaired swarming, one strain showed reduced inlA transcript levels, and two strains showed reduced swarming. Overall, our data show that (i) L. monocytogenes strains from outbreaks vary significantly in invasion efficiency and (ii) different mechanisms may contribute to reduced invasion efficiency. Association between EC strains and listeriosis outbreaks may involve characteristics other than virulence phenotypes, including survival and growth in food-associated environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5647-5658
Number of pages12
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2009


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