Escherichia coli carrying the F18 fimbriae colonize the small intestine of pigs and cause postweaning diarrhea and edema disease. There are 2 closely related antigenic variants of F18, F18ab, and F18ac. While F18ab-positive strains are known to be associated with edema disease, E. coli-carrying F18ac are known to cause diarrhea. One hundred ninety-eight E. coli isolates obtained from cases of diarrhea and edema disease in pigs isolated from feces or intestine were screened for the presence of the fedA gene encoding for F18 fimbriae. To distinguish between F18ab and F18ac, the fedA gene was sequenced in 69 F18-positive isolates/strains. The translated protein sequences of the fedA gene in the 2 variants differ; F18ac protein carries proline at amino acid residue 121, which is substituted or missing in F18ab. The F18ab- and F18ac-positive E. coli strains were compared for the presence of virulence attributes, serotypes of the isolates, and relatedness between the strains. Contrary to earlier reports that E. coli F18ab-positive strains mostly express Shiga toxin and F18ac-positive strains generally express enterotoxins, the current report shows conclusively for the first time that both variant types may carry genes for Shiga toxins and/or enterotoxins. Monoclonal antibodies produced against F18ab or F18ac fimbriae could not distinguish the strains carrying the 2 variants. Therefore, it was concluded that either of the 2 F18 variants, F18ab or F18ac, may be involved in causing postweaning diarrhea or edema disease in pigs.
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