Phenotypic and genotypic characterisation of bacteriophages of Clostridium difficile

Shan Goh

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Clostridium difficile is an important hospital-acquired pathogen causing C. difficile-associated diarrhoea (CDAD) in patients exposed to antibiotics. The lack of information on bacteriophages of C. difficile, and the potential of phages as therapeutic agents for the treatment of CDAD, prompted the isolation and characterisation of phages active against clinical isolates of C. difficile in order to determine the prevalence and significance of phages of this anaerobe. Three (5.4 %) of 56 clinical C. difficile isolates induced by mitomycin C yielded dsDNA phages C2, C5, C6 and C8. The four phages differed from previously described C. difficile phages in particle morphology, burst size and host range. C2, C5 and C8 particles were members of the family Myoviridae, while C6 belonged to Siphoviridae. The burst sizes were 5 for C2, 7 for C5, 19 for C6 and 33 for C8. C8 had the broadest host range, lysing 27 out of 56 (48 %) C. difficile isolates, followed by C6 (43 %), C5 (20 %) and C2 (20 %). Superinfection experiments, restriction enzyme analysis and Southern hybridisation showed C2 and C5 to be closely related with C8 somewhat related to them, however, C6 was distantly related to the other three phages. C2 was further characterised as a representative phage. Its genome did not possess cohesive ends, and was shown to integrate chromosomally via an attP site identified within a 1.9 kb HindIII fragment. However, an integrase gene, which is typically close to the attP region, was not located. Nine of 16 HindIII fragments of C2, including the 1.9 kb fragment, were cloned into pUC18. Approximately 9 kb of the estimated 43 kb genome of C2 was sequenced and analysed. Seven of the nine translated sequences were homologous to phage structural proteins, two sequences were not homologous to any relevant protein in the Genbank and EMBL databases, and one was homologous to proteins of Clostridium species. Nucleotide homology between the C2 sequences and the recently sequenced C. difficile strain CD630 was found in three regions within CD630 genome. Seven of the nine sequences, including the 1.9 kb fragment, were clustered in one region. These data suggest that the genes constitute a phage structural gene module. The presence of C2-like sequences in CD630, and Southern hybridisation of C. difficile strains using phage probes, suggested related prophage sequences may be commonly present in this bacterial species. An investigation was carried out to determine the presence of toxin genes tcdA and tcdB, and PaLoc-associated gene tcdE, in phage DNA. In addition, the effect of phage infection on toxin production of toxigenic C. difficile strains was studied. Of the three genes, tcdE only was detected in phages C2, C5 and C8, but not in C6. Strains that maintained phages in a stable manner (lysogens) were isolated and used in toxin studies. The amount of toxin B produced was measured by cytotoxic assays using Vero cells, and toxin A production was measured by ELISA. Although phages did not encode toxin A or B genes, there was a significant increase in toxin B production in some lysogens. There was no increase in toxin A production. Transcriptional analyses of tcdA and tcdB in lysogens and parental strains was performed by real-time RT-PCR and Northern hybridisation to determine whether phage was affecting regulation of toxin transcription. Phage did not appear to affect toxin gene transcription, although results from real-time RT-PCR and Northern hybridisation were conflicting. A phage induced from the highly toxigenic reference strain VPI 10463 was also briefly characterised and investigated for its effect on toxin production in VPI 10463. The phage, ΦCV, had similar particle morphology to C2, C5 and C8, and had some HindIII bands in common with C2 and C5. Two cured variant strains produced significantly less toxin B compared to VPI 10463. In conclusion, several important properties of C. difficile phages were characterised. It appears these te
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2003


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