Role of homologous recombination in adaptive diversification of extraintestinal Escherichia coli

Sandip Paul, Elena V. Linardopoulou, Mariya Billig, Veronika Tchesnokova, Lance B. Price, James R. Johnson, Sujay Chattopadhyay, Evgeni V. Sokurenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The contribution of homologous exchange (recombination) of core genes in the adaptive evolution of bacterial pathogens is not well understood. To investigate this, we analyzed fully assembled genomes of two Escherichia coli strains from sequence type 131 (ST131), a clonal group that is both the leading cause of extraintestinal E. coli infections and the main source of fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli. Although the sequences of each of the seven multilocus sequence typing genes were identical in the two ST131 isolates, the strains diverged from one another by homologous recombination that affected at least 9% of core genes. This was on a par with the contribution to genomic diversity of horizontal gene transfer and point gene mutation. The genomic positions of recombinant and mobile genetic regions were partially linked, suggesting their concurrent occurrence. One of the genes affected by homologous recombination was fimH, which encodes mannose-specific type 1 fimbrial adhesin, resulting in functionally distinct copies of the gene in ST131 strains. One strain, a uropathogenic isolate, had a pathoadaptive variant of fimH that was acquired by homologous replacement into the commensal strain background. Close examination of FimH structure and function in additional ST131 isolates revealed that recombination led to acquisition of several functionally distinct variants that, upon homologous exchange, were targeted by a variety of pathoadaptive mutations under strong positive selection. Different recombinant fimH strains also showed a strong clonal association with ST131 isolates that had distinct fluoroquinolone resistance profiles. Thus, homologous recombination of core genes plays a significant role in adaptive diversification of bacterial pathogens, especially at the level of clonally related groups of isolates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-242
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2013


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