Kittens could have the key to understanding deadly diarrhea in children

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Kittens could be a model for understanding contagious, sometimes deadly, diarrhea in both animals and children, a new study from North Carolina State University has found.

Diarrheal bacteria Escherichia coli (DEC) cause deadly diarrhea in children worldwide, killing up to 120,000 children under the age of five each year. Atypical enteropathic Escherichia coli (aEPEC) is a form of DEC that is increasingly associated with diarrhea in humans and kittens.

“We looked for the causes of contagious diarrhea in kittens who have a high mortality rate and came across this pathogen,” says Jody Gookin, a respected FluoroScience professor in the research education of veterinarians in the NC state and co-author of the study.

“The interesting thing about aEPEC is that you can find it in both healthy and sick people. If you have it in your gut, it doesn’t mean you’re sick, but those who are sick have a higher burden or amount of bacteria in their bodies.”

Gookin and Victoria Watson, a former doctoral student in the state of NC and lead author of the study, performed a genomic analysis of AEPEC isolates of both healthy kittens colonized with bacteria and kittens with deadly infections to try to determine why aEPEC causes disease in some kittens, but in others it remains dormant.

With colleagues from the University of Maryland, Gookin and Watson then compared genomic data from both groups of kittens with human isolates of aEPEC. However, there were no specific genetic markers that allowed researchers to distinguish groups of isolates.

“AEPEC isolated from humans is the same as that found in healthy and sick kittens,” says Gookin. “There were no unique genetic markers that could explain why one group of bacteria causes the disease and the other does not. The only thing we found were differences in behavior between the isolated groups.

“Pathogens or disease-causing diseases had greater motility – they were better swimmers. AEPEC bacteria cause disease by attaching to intestinal-lined epithelial cells. These cells then secrete fluid, causing diarrhea. So, better or further aEPEC bacteria can swim, it would be easier find the cells and attach them. “

The findings point to kittens as a potentially invaluable model for further research into AEPEC at the molecular level to inform treatment approaches for both humans and cats.

“This is the first report of the same genetics in groups of aEPEC isolates from humans and kittens, healthy and sick,” Gookin says. “It’s also further evidence that companion animals can give us an important insight into the diseases that affect us both.”

Campylobacter strains exchange genes, they can become more virulent and more resistant to antibiotics

More information:
Victoria E. Watson et al., Comparative genomics of atypical enteropathogenic Escherichia coli of kittens and children identifies bacterial factors associated with kitten virulence, Infection and immunity (2020). DOI: 10.1128 / IAI.00619-20

Provided by North Carolina State University

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