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The relationship between phenotype, ribotype, and clinical disease in human Clostridium difficile isolates.

Carlson, PE;Walk, ST;Bourgis, AE;Liu, MW;Kopliku, F;Lo, E;Young, VB;Aronoff, DM;Hanna, PC;

Since 2000, Clostridium difficile isolates of ribotype 027 have been linked to outbreaks in North America and Europe and also an increased rate of colectomy and death among infected individuals. It has been proposed that enhanced sporulation and toxin production were associated with this apparent increase in virulence of 027 isolates. Since only a limited number of isolates have been examined, the relationship of these phenotypes to a specific ribotype, and as well as to clinical disease severity, remains controversial. 106 recent clinical isolates from the University of Michigan Health System were characterized for the ability to sporulate, produce viable spores, grow in rich media, and produce toxins in vitro. Significant variation was observed between isolates for each of these phenotypes. Isolates of ribotype 027 produced higher levels of toxin and exhibited slower growth compared to other ribotypes. Importantly, increased spore production did appear to be relevant to severe C. difficile infection, as determined by available clinical meta-data. These data provide the first significant difference between isolates from severe vs. less severe disease based on an in vitro C. difficile phenotype and suggest that clinical outcome is better predicted by bacterial attributes other than ribotype.