One hundred and four enterotoxin producing Escherichia coli strains of wide geographical origin were tested for the expression of curli fimbriae by transmission electronmicroscopy and by ELISA using curli-specific antibodies, as well as for the presence of curli-specific gene sequences by PCR. All isolates, irrespective of the production of the fimbriae, carried sequences specific for the structure (csgA) and for one of the regulator genes (crl) of curli expression, respectively. Curli fimbriae were detected in 56 strains (53.8 %). Thirty-six strains expressed curli only when growing at 30°C, 4 isolates were weakly curliated at 37°C only, while on 16 strains curli was observed at both temperatures. On isolates carrying curli at both temperatures the expression of the fimbria was significantly stronger at 30°C than at 37°C. Curli proficiency significantly, but not completely, correlated with the binding of the Congo Red dye. The expression of curli did not confer epithelial cell invasiveness to ETEC strains but, once expressed at 30°C, it facilitated the adherence of the bacteria to plastic surfaces. Curli present in more than half of the ETEC strains and expressed preferentially at low temperatures could be a factor facilitating the environmental survival of this food- and water-borne pathogen.
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