Two putative zinc metalloproteases contribute to the virulence of Clostridium perfringens strains that cause avian necrotic enteritis

Ben Wade, Anthony L. Keyburn, Volker Haring, Mark Ford, Julian I. Rood, Robert J. Moore

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Two putative zinc metalloproteases encoded by Clostridium perfringens have been implicated in the pathogenesis of necrotic enteritis, an economically significant poultry disease that is caused by this anaerobic bacterium. These proteases have ~64% amino acid identity and are encoded by the zmpA and zmpB genes. We screened 83 C. perfringens isolates by PCR for the presence of these genes. The first gene, zmpB, is chromosomally located and was present in all screened strains of C. perfringens, regardless of their origin and virulence. The second gene, zmpA, is plasmid-borne and was only found in isolates derived from chickens with necrotic enteritis. We describe the generation of insertionally inactivated mutants of both zmpA and zmpB in a virulent C. perfringens isolate. For each mutant, a significant (p < 0.001) reduction in virulence was observed in a chicken necrotic enteritis disease model. Examples of each mutant strain were characterized by whole genome sequencing, which showed that there were a few off-site mutations with the potential to affect the virulence of these strains. To confirm the importance of these genes, independently derived zmpA and zmpB mutants were constructed in different virulent C. perfringens isolates and shown to have reduced virulence in the experimental disease induction model. A zmpA–zmpB double mutant also was generated and shown to have significantly reduced virulence, to the same extent as the respective single mutants. Our results provide evidence that both putative zinc metalloproteases play an important role in disease pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-267
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Clostridium perfringens
  • metalloproteases
  • mucin
  • necrotic enteritis, poultry

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