Epidemic ribotypes of Clostridium (now Clostridioides) difficile are likely to be more virulent than non-epidemic ribotypes in animal models

John C. Vitucci, Mark Pulse, Leslie Tabor-Simecka, Jerry Simecka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Clostridioides difficile infections have become more frequently diagnosed and associated with greater disease severity, which has resulted in an increase burden on the healthcare system. These increases are attributed to the increased prevalence of hypervirulent strains encompassing select ribotypes. These epidemic ribotypes were characterized as hypervirulent due to higher in vitro spore and toxin production, as well as increased incidence, severity and mortality within patients. However, it is unclear whether epidemic ribotypes are truly more virulent than non-epidemic ribotypes in vivo. Furthermore, there is conflicting evidence about the ability of a strain's in vitro phenotype to be predictive of their in vivo virulence. The goals of the current studies were to determine if epidemic ribotypes are more virulent than other ribotypes in animal models, and whether the in vitro virulence phenotype of an isolate or ribotype predict in vivo virulence. Results: To determine if epidemic strains were truly more virulent than other non-epidemic strains, the in vivo virulence of 13 C. difficile isolates (7 non-epidemic and 6 epidemic ribotype isolates) were determined in murine and hamster models of CDI. The isolates of epidemic ribotype of C. difficile were found to be more virulent in both the murine and hamster models than non-epidemic isolates. In particular, the group of epidemic ribotypes of C. difficile had lower LD50 values in hamsters. The increased severity of disease was associated with higher levels of Toxin A and Toxin B production found in fecal samples, but not numbers of organisms recovered. The isolates were further characterized for their in vitro virulence phenotypes, e.g. toxin production, growth rates, spore formation and adherence of spores to intestinal epithelial cell lines. Although there were higher levels of toxins produced and greater adherence for the group of epidemic ribotypes, the in vitro profiles of individual isolates were not always predictive of their in vivo virulence. Conclusions: Overall, the group of epidemic ribotypes of C. difficile were more virulent in vivo despite individual isolates having similar phenotypes to the non-epidemic isolates in vitro.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Feb 2020



  • Animal models
  • Clostridioides
  • Clostridium
  • Difficile
  • Epidemic
  • In vitro phenotype
  • Ribotype
  • Toxin
  • Virulence

Cite this