Clostridium perfringens produces an extensive repertoire of toxins and extracellular enzymes, many of which are intimately involved in the progression of disease and are encoded by genes on conjugative plasmids. In addition, many C. perfringens strains can carry up to five of these conjugative toxin or antimicrobial resistance plasmids, each of which has a similar 35 kb backbone. This conserved backbone includes the tcp conjugation locus and the central control region (CCR), which encodes genes involved in plasmid regulation, replication and partitioning, including a parMRC partitioning locus. Most conjugative plasmids in C. perfringens have a conserved replication protein, raising questions as to how multiple, closely related plasmids are maintained within a single strain. Bioinformatics analysis has highlighted the presence of at least 10 different parMRC partitioning system families (parMRCA–J) in these plasmids, with differences in amino acid sequence identity between each ParM family ranging from 15% to 54%. No two plasmids that encode genes belonging to the same partitioning family have been observed in a single strain, suggesting that these families represent the basis for plasmid incompatibility. In an attempt to validate the proposed parMRC incompatibility groups, genetically marked C. perfringens plasmids encoding identical parMRCC or parMRCD homologues or different combinations of parMRCA, parMRCC and parMRCD family homologues were introduced into a single strain via conjugation. The stability of each plasmid was determined using an incompatibility assay in which the plasmid profile of each strain was monitored over the course of two days in the absence of direct selection. The results showed that plasmids with identical parMRCC or parMRCD homologues were incompatible and could not coexist in the absence of external selection. By contrast, plasmids that encoded different parMRC homologues were compatible and could coexist in the same cell in the absence of selection, with the exception of strains housing parMRCC and parMRCD combinations, which showed a minor incompatibility phenotype. In conclusion, we have provided the first direct evidence of plasmid incompatibility in Clostridium spp. and have shown experimentally that the compatibility of conjugative C. perfringens plasmids correlates with the presence of parMRC-like partitioning systems of different phylogenetic subfamilies.
- Clostridium perfringens
- Toxin plasmids