Molecular evolution and mosaic structure of α, β, and γ intimins of pathogenic Escherichia coli

Elizabeth A. McGraw, Jia Li, Robert K. Selander, Thomas S. Whittam

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Two types of pathogenic Escherichia coli, enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), cause diarrheal disease by disrupting the intestinal environment through the intimate attachment of the bacteria to the intestinal epithelium. This process is mediated by intimin, an outer membrane protein that is homologous to the invasins of pathogenic Yersinia. The intimin (eae) gene is part of a pathogenicity island, a 35-kb segment of DNA that has been acquired independently in different groups of pathogens. Nucleotide sequences of eae of three EPEC and four EHEC strains representing distinct clonal lineages revealed an exceptionally high level of divergence (15%) in the amino acid sequences of α, β, and γ intimin molecules, most of which is concentrated in the C-terminal region. The γ intimin sequences from E. coli strains with serotypes O157:H7, O55:H7, and O157:H- are virtually identical, supporting the hypothesis that these bacteria belong to a single clonal lineage. Sequences of β intimin of EPEC strains of serotypes O111:H2 and O128:H2 show substantial differences from α and γ intimins, indicating that these strains have evolved independently. Strong nonrandom clustering of polymorphic sites indicates that the intimin genes are mosaics, suggesting that protein divergence has been accelerated by recombination and diversifying selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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