Based on recently published prevalence data of virulence-associated factors in avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) and their roles in the pathogenesis of colibacillosis, we developed a multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as a molecular tool supplementing current diagnostic schemes that mainly rely on serological examination of strains isolated from diseased birds. Multiple isolates of E. coli from clinical cases of colibacillosis known to possess different combinations of eight genes were used as sources of template DNA to develop the multiplex PCR protocol, targeting genes for P-fimbriae (papC), aerobactin (iucD), iron-repressible protein (irp2), temperature-sensitive hemagglutinin (tsh), vacuolating autotransporter toxin (vat), enteroaggregative toxin (astA), increased serum survival protein (iss), and colicin V plasmid operon genes (cva/cvi). In order to verify the usefulness of this diagnostic tool, E. coli strains isolated from fecal samples of clinically healthy chickens were also included in this study, as were uropathogenic (UPEC), necrotoxigenic, and diarrhegenic E. coli strains. The application of the multiplex PCR protocol to 14 E. coli strains isolated from septicemic poultry showed that these strains harbored four to eight of the genes mentioned above. In contrast, those isolates that have been shown to be nonpathogenic for 5-wk-old chickens possessed either none or, at most, three of these genes. We found only one enterohemorrhagic (EHEC), one enteropathogenic (EPEC), and two enterotoxic (ETEC) E. coli strains positive for irp2, and another two ETEC strains positive for astA. As expected, UPEC isolates yielded different combinations of the genes iss, papC, iucD, irp2, and a sequence similar to vat. However, neither the colicin V operon genes cva/cvi nor tsh were amplified in UPEC isolates. The multiplex PCR results were compared with those obtained by DNA–DNA-hybridization analyses to validate the specificity of oligonucleotide primers, and the protocol was concluded to be a useful, sensitive, and rapid assay system to detect avian pathogenic E. coli and differentiate them from nonpathogenic strains and those belonging to other pathotypes.

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