Cattle are a reservoir host of EHEC O157 and a major source of human exposure through contaminated meat products.
Shiga toxins (Stxs) are an important pathogenicity trait of EHEC O157. The insertion sites of the Stx-encoding bacteriophages differentiate EHEC O157 isolates into genogroups commonly isolated from cattle but rarely from sick humans (bovine-biased genotypes [BBG]) and those commonly isolated from both cattle and human patients (clinical genotypes [CG]). Since BBG and CG share the cardinal virulence factors of EHEC O157 and are carried by cattle at similar prevalences, the infrequent occurrence of BBG among human disease isolates suggests that they may be less virulent than CG. We compared the virulence potentials of human and bovine isolates of CG and BBG in newborn conventional pig and weaned Dutch Belted rabbit models. CG-challenged piglets experienced severe disease accompanied by early and high mortality compared to BBG-challenged piglets. Similarly, CG-challenged rabbits were likely to develop lesions in kidney and intestine compared with the BBG-challenged rabbits.
The CG strains used in this study carried stx2 and produced significantly higher amounts of Stx, whereas the BBG strains carried the stx2c gene variant only.
These results suggest that BBG are less virulent than CG and that this difference in virulence potential is associated with the Stx2 subtype(s) carried and/or the amount of Stx produced.