Verocytotoxin-producing (VTEC) have been recognised recently as an important cause of human disease. The adherence of VTEC to rabbit intestinal tract and the relationship between adherence and other virulence traits were studied. Twenty clinical isolates of VTEC (O157:H7 and other serotypes) and a control, commensal strain, were examined. Bacteria were evaluated for the presence of surface fimbriae, plasmid profile and hybridisation with a 3·4 kb DNA probe derived from the 60-MDa plasmid of such strains. Adherence was determined by electronmicroscopy and quantitatively with radiolabelled bacteria. Of the VTEC strains, 12 (60%) had surface fimbriae; all O157:H7 and 10 (70%) of 14 of the non-O157:H7 strains hybridised with the probe. No isolate was negative for both of these virulence traits and there was no correlation between their presence. The plasmid profiles varied among the strains, with no correlation to virulence traits. The adherence of VTEC strains differed significantly, ranging from 0·3 to 34·0 bacteria/intestinal cell. The mean adherence of fimbriate strains was greater than that of non-fimbriate strains (3·9 2·7 bacteria/cell), although marked variability was noted in both groups. This study showed that VTEC strains differed markedly in their adherence capability and that neither the presence of fimbriae nor hybridisation with the 3·4-kb probe was essential for adherence. Several distinct mechanisms probably play a role in VTEC adherence.


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