Cats could be a model for understanding infectious, and sometimes deadly, diarrheal diseases in both animals and children, according to new research from North Carolina State University.
The diarrheal Escherichia coli (DEC) bacteria causes a fatal diarrheal disease in children worldwide, killing up to 120,000 children under the age of five annually. Enteric atypical Escherichia coli (aEPEC) is a form of DEC that is increasingly associated with diarrheal disease in humans and cats.
“We were looking for the causes of infectious diarrhea in kittens, which have a high mortality rate, and I came across this pathogen,” says Judy Guokin, FluoroScience Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Research Education in North Carolina and corresponding author of the paper.
“The interesting thing about aEPEC is that you can find it in both healthy and sick individuals. Its presence in the gut does not mean that you are sick, but that patients have a greater burden or amount of bacteria in their bodies.”
Gookin and Victoria Watson, former PhDs. A student in North Carolina and the lead author of the study, conducted a genetic analysis of aEPEC isolates from both healthy cats that had colonized the bacteria and cats with fatal infections to try to determine why aEPEC caused disease in some cats but remained latent in others.
With collaborators at the University of Maryland, Juquen and Watson compared genomic data from the two groups of cats to human aEPEC isolates. However, there were no specific genetic markers that would allow researchers to distinguish between groups of isolates.
“The aEPEC isolated from humans is the same as that found in healthy and sick cats,” says Juquen. There were no unique genetic markers that could explain why one group of bacteria caused the disease while another group did not. The only thing we found was the behavioral differences between the isolated groups.
“Pathogenic or disease-causing isolates were more mobile – they were better swimmers. AEPEC bacteria cause disease by attaching to the epithelial cells lining the intestine. These cells then secrete fluid, causing diarrhea. So the better or more aEPEC can swim, the better it is.” It’s easier to find cells and stick to them. “
The results point to cats as an invaluable model for further exploration of aEPEC at the molecular level to inform treatment modalities for both humans and cats.
“This is the first report of genes being the same in groups of aEPEC isolates from humans and cats, whether healthy or sick,” says Gookin. “It is also another proof that our companion animals can give us important insights into the diseases that afflict each of us.”
Work is shown in Infection and immunity It was supported by the Winn Feline Foundation (grant W14-035) and the National Institutes of Health (Grants U19AI110820 and T32OD011130). Watson is a veterinarian who specializes in veterinary pathology currently at Michigan State University. Tracy Hazen and David Rasco of the University of Maryland School of Medicine also contributed to the work.
Note to editors: The summary follows.
“Comparative genomics of Escherichia coli atypical pathogen in the intestinal pathogen of cats and children identifies bacterial factors associated with virulence in cats”
DOI: 10.1128 / IAI.00619-20
Authors: Victoria E Watson, Megan E Jacob, Joanna R Elvenbein, Stephen H Stover, Jodi L. Gookin, North Carolina State University; Tracy H. Hazen, David A. Rasco, University of Maryland
Publication date: February 16, 2021 in Infection and immunity
Enteric pathogen model Escherichia coli (tEPEC) is a major cause of diarrhea and associated death in children worldwide. EPEC atypia (aEPEC) lacks the filament forming plasmid coding beams and is considered less virulent, but the molecular mechanism of virulence is not well understood. We recently identified cats as hosts of aEPEC where intestinal epithelial colonization was associated with diarrheal disease and death. The purposes of this study were (1) to determine the genetic similarity between cat aEPEC and human aEPEC isolates and (2) to determine the genotype or phenotype associated with virulence in the cat aEPEC. We observed no differences between cat and human aEPEC in basic genome content or gene set sequence identities, and no distinct genomic content was observed between aEPEC isolates from cats with nonclinical colonization (NC) versus those with lethal infection (LI). The variability in adherence patterns and the ability to synthesize actin in cultured cells reflects the descriptions of human aEPEC. AEPEC isolated from cats with LI was significantly more motile than isolates from cats with NC. Cats may function as a reservoir of aEPEC that is indistinguishable from human aEPEC isolates and may provide a comparative animal model required to study the pathogenesis of aEPEC disease. Movement appears to be an important factor in the pathogenesis of aEPEC-associated LI in cats.
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