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A total of 382 porcine Pasteurella multocida strains, isolated from cases of pneumonia and progressive atrophic rhinitis (PAR) as well as from clinically healthy pigs of more than 150 German husbandries were characterized by detection of virulence-associated genes (VAGs) and ribotyping to understand the relationships between "commensal" and "pathogenic" strains, enabling a rational choice of vaccine strains. The diversity of the strains according to VAGs was low and mainly limited to capsular type genes (capA: 53.4%; capD: 45.8%; capF: 0.3%; cap-negative: 0.5%; hssB: 95.3%), dermonecrotoxin gene toxA (3.4%), as well as adhesion-related genes pfhaB (20.9%) and hgbB (84.3%). Ribotyping identified 13 patterns, but the vast majority of strains (95.8%) clustered in only three of these, namely IA-1 (45.5%), IA-7 (30.1%), and IIA-1 (20.2%). Pattern IA-1 was associated with capD(+) strains (93.6%) and harboured the majority of toxA(+) strains (84.6%). Pattern IA-7 mostly contained pfhaB(-), toxA(-)capA(+) strains (93.9%), while pattern IIA-1 was predominantly composed of pfhaB(+), toxA(-)capA(+) strains (87.0%). Clinical strains associated with pneumonia or PAR shared the above mentioned major ribotypes in comparable proportions with strains derived from healthy pigs, suggesting P. multocida to act more as an opportunistic than as an obligate pathogen in pigs. The limited number of subpopulations may either reflect a recent evolution of P. multocida in pigs or a selection by means of horizontal transfer of capsular genes, toxA or pfhaB. These data enforce further phylogenetic and epidemiological studies, examining the properties of different subpopulations of porcine P. multocida strains as well as factors of the porcine hosts themselves, which might be involved in disease susceptibility.