Campylobacter jejuni produces cytolethal distending toxin (CDT) that causes host cells to arrest during their cell cycle and that is involved in the pathogenesis of inflammatory diarrhea in humans. To assess the role of CDT in adherence and invasion of different cultured host cells (HeLa and HD-11) and in colonization of the chicken intestine, the genes of C. jejuni NCTC11168 encoding the toxin subunits (cdtA, cdtB, and cdtC) were inactivated by insertional mutagenesis. No significant difference was found in adhesion of the wild-type C. jejuni and the isogenic mutants to HeLa and HD-11 cells. All of the mutants exhibited a decrease (>10-fold) in the ability to invade HeLa cells, but no significant difference was noticed for HD-11 cells. The ability of mutants to colonize birds either directly or by horizontal transfer was unchanged. These data indicated that although the production of cytotoxin does not play a role in the adherence to either human or avian cells, it may play a role in the invasion, survival, or both of C. jejuni in human cells, which are more susceptible to C. jejuni internalization. The CDT also does not seem to play a role in the colonization of poultry.

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