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Characterization and pathogenic potential of Listeria monocytogenes isolates from the smoked fish industry

Norton, D.M., Scarlett, J.M., Horton, K., Sue, D., Thimothe, J., Boor, K.J., Wiedmann, M.
Applied and environmental microbiology 2001 v.67 no.2 pp. 646-653
Listeria monocytogenes, food contamination, microbial contamination, smoked fish, salmon, fish industry, listeriosis, strains, ribosomal DNA, polymerase chain reaction, restriction fragment length polymorphism, genes, hemolysins, cytopathogenicity, cultured cells, fibroblasts, mice, ribotypes
This study was designed to evaluate the hypothesis that some of the Listeria monocytogenes subtypes associated with foods, specifically smoked fish, may have an attenuated ability to cause human disease. We tested this hypothesis by using two different approaches: (i) comparison of molecular subtypes found among 117 isolates from smoked fish, raw materials, fish in process, and processing environments with subtypes found among a collection of 275 human clinical isolates and (ii) the evaluation of the cytopathogenicity of industrial isolates. Ribotyping and PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism typing of the hlyA and actA genes differentiated 23 subtypes among the industrial isolates and allowed classification of the isolates into three genetic lineages. A significantly higher proportion of human isolates (69.1%) than industrial isolates (36.8%) were classified as lineage I, which contains human sporadic isolates and all epidemic isolates. All other industrial isolates (63.2%) were classified as lineage II, which contains only human sporadic isolates. Lineage I ribotypes DUP-1038B and DUP-1042B represented a significantly higher proportion of the human isolates than industrial isolates (5.1%). Lineage II ribotypes DUP-1039C, DUP-1042C, and DUP-1045, shown previously to persist in the smoked fish processing environment, represented nearly 50% of the industrial isolates, compared to 7.6% of the human isolates. Representatives of each subtype were evaluated with a tissue culture plaque assay. Lineage I isolates formed plaques that were significantly larger than those formed by lineage II isolates. Isolates from the smoked fish industry representing three ribotypes formed no plaques or small plaques, indicating that they had an impaired ability to infect mammalian cells. While L. monocytogenes clonal groups linked to human listeriosis cases and outbreaks were isolated, our data also suggest that at least some L. monocytogenes subtypes present in ready-to-eat foods may have limited human-pathogenic potential.