Atypical enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (aEPEC) is an umbrella term given to E. coli that possess a type III secretion system encoded in the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE), but lack the virulence factors (stx, bfpA) that characterize enterohaemorrhagic E. coli and typical EPEC, respectively. The burden of disease caused by aEPEC has recently increased in industrialized and developing nations, yet the population structure and virulence profile of this emerging pathogen are poorly understood. Here, we generated whole-genome sequences of 185 aEPEC isolates collected during the Global Enteric Multicenter Study from seven study sites in Asia and Africa, and compared them with publicly available E. coli genomes. Phylogenomic analysis revealed ten distinct widely distributed aEPEC clones. Analysis of genetic variation in the LEE pathogenicity island identified 30 distinct LEE subtypes divided into three major lineages. Each LEE lineage demonstrated a preferred chromosomal insertion site and different complements of non-LEE encoded effector genes, indicating distinct patterns of evolution of these lineages. This study provides the first detailed genomic framework for aEPEC in the context of the EPEC pathotype and will facilitate further studies into the epidemiology and pathogenicity of EPEC by enabling the detection and tracking of specific clones and LEE variants.
- microbial genetics