Conjugation-mediated horizontal gene transfer of Clostridium perfringens plasmids in the chicken gastrointestinal tract results in the formation of new virulent strains

Jake A. Lacey, Anthony L. Keyburn, Mark E. Ford, Ricardo W. Portela, Priscilla A. Johanesen, Dena Lyras, Robert J. Moore

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Clostridium perfringens is a gastrointestinal pathogen capable of causing disease in a variety of hosts. Necrotic enteritis in chickens is caused by C. perfringens strains that produce the pore-forming toxin NetB, the major virulence factor for this disease. Like many other C. perfringens toxins and antibiotic resistance genes, NetB is encoded on a conjugative plasmid. Conjugative transfer of the netB-containing plasmid pJIR3535 has been demonstrated in vitro with a netB-null mutant. This study has investigated the effect of plasmid transfer on disease pathogenesis, with two genetically distinct transconjugants constructed under in vitro conditions, within the intestinal tract of chickens. This study also demonstrates that plasmid transfer can occur naturally in the host gut environment without the need for antibiotic selective pressure to be applied. The demonstration of plasmid transfer within the chicken host may have implications for the progression and pathogenesis of C. perfringensmediated disease. Such horizontal gene transfer events are likely to be common in the clostridia and may be a key factor in strain evolution, both within animals and in the wider environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01814-17
Number of pages13
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Conjugation
  • In vivo plasmid transfer
  • Necrotic enteritis
  • Pathogenicity
  • Virulence

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