Postprint version. Published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Volume 68, Issue 6, June 1, 2002, pages 2901-2909.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author P.S. Marie Yeung was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Historically, Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections have been characterized by sporadic cases caused by multiple, diverse serotypes. However, since 1996, V. parahaemolyticus serotype O3:K6 strains have been associated with several large-scale outbreaks of illness, suggesting the emergence of a "new" group of organisms with enhanced virulence. We have applied three different molecular subtyping techniques to identify an appropriate method for differentiating O3:K6 isolates from other serotypes. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) following NotI digestion differentiated seven closely related subtypes among O3:K6 and related strains, which were distinct from PFGE patterns for non-O3:K6 isolates. Ribotyping and tdh sequencing were less discriminatory than PFGE, but further confirmed close genetic relationships among recent O3:K6 isolates. In vitro adherence and cytotoxicity studies with human epithelial cells showed that O3:K6 isolates exhibited statistically higher levels of adherence and cytotoxicity to host cells than non-O3:K6 isolates. Epithelial cell cytotoxicity patterns were determined with a lactate dehydrogenase release assay. At 3 h postinfection, high relative cytotoxicities (>50% maximum lactate dehydrogenase activity) were found among a greater proportion of recently isolated O3:K6 and closely related strains (75%) than among the non-O3:K6 isolates (23%). A statistically significant relationship between adherence and cytotoxicity suggests that the pathogenic potential of some isolates may be associated with increased adherence to epithelial cells. Our findings suggest that enhanced adherence and cytotoxicity may contribute to the apparent unique pathogenic potential of V. parahaemolyticus O3:K6 strains.