We have investigated the use of a top-down liquid chromatography/mass spectrometric (LC/MS) approach for the identification of specific protein biomarkers useful for differentiation of closely related strains of bacteria. The sequence information derived from the protein biomarker was then used to develop specific polymerase chain reaction primers useful for rapid identification of the strains. Shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) strains were used for this evaluation. The expressed protein profiles of two closely related serotype 0157:H7 strains, the predominant strain implicated in illness worldwide, and the nonpathogenic E. coli K-12 strain were compared with each other in an attempt to identify new protein markers that could be used to distinguish the 0157:H7 strains from each other and from the E. coli K-12 strain. Sequencing of a single protein unique to one of the 0157:H7 strains identified it as a cytolethal distending toxin, a potential virulence marker. The protein sequence information enabled the derivation of genetic sequence information for this toxin, thus allowing the development of specific polymerase chain reaction primers for its detection. In addition, the top-down LC/MS technique was able to identify other unique biomarkers and differentiate nearly identical 0157:H7 strains, which exhibited identical phenotypic, serologic, and genetic traits. The results of these studies demonstrate that this approach can be expanded to other serotypes of interest and provide a rational approach to identifying new molecular targets for detection
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