Diversity of cwp loci in clinical isolates of Clostridium difficile

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An increased incidence of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is associated with the emergence of epidemic strains characterized by high genetic diversity. Among the factors that may have a role in CDI is a family of 29 paralogues, the cell-wall proteins (CWPs), which compose the outer layer of the bacterial cell and are likely to be involved in colonization. Previous studies have shown that 12 of the 29 cwp genes are clustered in the same region, named after slpA (cwp1), the slpA locus, whereas the remaining 17 paralogues are distributed throughout the genome. The variability of 14 of these 17 cwp paralogues was determined in 40 C. difficile clinical isolates belonging to six of the currently prevailing PCR ribotypes. Based on sequence conservation, these cwp genes were divided into two groups, one comprising nine cwp loci having highly conserved sequences in all isolates, and the other five loci showing low genetic conservation among isolates of the same PCR ribotype, as well as between different PCR ribotypes. Three conserved CWPs, Cwp16, Cwp18 and Cwp25, and two variable ones, Cwp26 and Cwp27, were characterized further by Western blot analysis of total cell extracts or surface-layer preparations of the C. difficile clinical isolates. Expression of genetically invariable CWPs was well conserved in all isolates, whilst genetically variable CWPs were not always expressed at comparable levels, even in strains containing identical sequences but belonging to different PCR ribotypes. This is the first report on the distribution and variability of a number of genes encoding CWPs in C. difficile.

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