Date of this Version
Infection and Immunity Volume 82, Number 7, p. 2815–2825
Clostridium difficile infection is the most common cause of severe cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) and is a significant health burden. Recent increases in the rate of C. difficile infection have paralleled the emergence of a specific phylogenetic clade of C. difficile strains (ribotype 027; North American pulsed-field electrophoresis 1 [NAP1]; restriction endonuclease analysis [REA] group BI). Initial reports indicated that ribotype 027 strains were associated with increased morbidity and mortality and might be hypervirulent. Although subsequent work has raised some doubt as to whether ribotype 027 strains are hypervirulent, the strains are considered epidemic isolates that have caused severe outbreaks across the globe. We hypothesized that one factor that could lead to the increased prevalence of ribotype 027 strains would be if these strains had increased competitive fitness compared to strains of other ribotypes. We developed a moderate-throughput in vitro model of C. difficile infection and used it to test competition between four ribotype 027 clinical isolates and clinical isolates of four other ribotypes (001, 002, 014, and 053). We found that ribotype 027 strains outcompeted the strains of other ribotypes. A similar competitive advantage was observed when two ribotype pairs were competed in a mouse model of C. difficile infection. Based upon these results, we conclude that one possible mechanism through which ribotype 027 strains have caused outbreaks worldwide is their increased ability to compete in the presence of a complex microbiota.