Virulence gene profiles of rabbit enteropathogenic Escherichia coli strains isolated in Northern Italy

How to Cite

Badagliacca, P., Agnoletti, F., Drigo, I., Merildi, V., Lopes, F., Pompilii, C., Mangone, I., Scacchia, M., Tonelli, A., & Masson, L. (2019). Virulence gene profiles of rabbit enteropathogenic Escherichia coli strains isolated in Northern Italy. Veterinaria Italiana, 54(3), 189–196. https://doi.org/10.12834/VetIt.859.4260.2


The virulence gene profile of 26 rabbit enteropathogenic Escherichia coli strains, isolated from 17 colibacillosis outbreaks located in two regions of Northern Italy, was determined using an Echerichia coli virulence DNA microarray. All strains were classified according to their determined biotype, sero- and phylo-group. The distribution of virulence genes encoding for the Locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE), LEE type III secretion system (T3SS), non-LEE T3SS translocated proteins and adherence factors was also determined. All strains but one belonged to phylogroups A and B1. A prevalent association between the O103 serogroup with the rhamnose-negative phenotype (biotype 12 or 14) was found. The most prevalent LEE profile found in tested strains was ler/cesT/espA-1/espB-3/tir-1/eae(beta)/espD-2/escN/eprJ. All strains possessed either the adhesive factor rabbit-2 (afr/2) or the plasmid Rabbit adherence locus (ral) gene and 24 of them an additional individual or combined set of colonization factors efa1/lifA, lpfA and paa genes. Finally, the combined or single presence of a set of LEE and/or non-LEE effector proteins encoding genes, namely espG, cif, map and nle family genes, attested to the genetic potential of investigated strains to induce pathologic lesions to the host. The application of microarray-based technologies in assessing the genetic profile of rabbit E. coli is a reliable, cost-effective candidate for large scale investigations in monitoring programs aimed to survey the circulation of pathogenic strains within rabbit production units, their zoonotic genetic potential and to select E. coli strains eligible for vaccinal prophylaxis in fattening rabbit production.