Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Barbara E. Murray, M.D.

Committee Member

Steven J. Norris, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Danielle Garsin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Magnus Hook, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard Clark, Ph.D.


The basis for the recent transition of Enterococcus faecium from a primarily commensal organism to one of the leading causes of hospital-acquired infections in the United States is not yet understood. To address this, the first part of my project assessed isolates from early outbreaks in the USA and South America using sequence analysis, colony hybridizations, and minimal inhibitory concentrations (MICs) which showed clinical isolates possess virulence and antibiotic resistance determinants that are less abundant or lacking in community isolates. I also revealed that the level of ampicillin resistance increased over time in clinical strains. By sequencing the pbp5 gene, I demonstrated an ~5% difference in the pbp5 gene between strains with MICs <4ug/ml and those with MICs >4µg/ml, but no specific sequence changes correlated with increases in MICs within the latter group. A 3-10% nucleotide difference was also seen in three other genes analyzed, which suggested the existence of two distinct subpopulations of E. faecium. This led to the second part of my project analyzing concatenated core gene sequences, SNPs, the 16S rRNA, and phylogenetics of 21 E. faecium genomes confirming two distinct clades; a community-associated (CA) clade and hospital-associated (HA) clade. Molecular clock calculations indicate that these two clades likely diverged ~ 300,000 to > 1 million years ago, long before the modern antibiotic era. Genomic analysis also showed that, in addition to core genomic differences, HA E. faecium harbor specific accessory genetic elements that may confer selection advantages over CA E. faecium. The third part of my project discovered 6 E. faecium genes with the newly identified “WxL” domain. My analyses, using RT-PCR, western blots, patient sera, whole-cell ELISA, and immunogold electron microscopy, indicated that E. faecium WxL genes exist in operons, encode bacterial cell surface localized proteins, that WxL proteins are antigenic in humans, and are more exposed on the surface of clinical isolates versus community isolates (even though they are ubiquitous in both clades). ELISAs and BIAcore analyses also showed that proteins encoded by these operons bind several different host extracellular matrix proteins, as well as to each other, suggesting a novel cell-surface complex. In summary, my studies provide new insights into the evolution of E. faecium by showing that there are two distantly related clades; one being more successful in the hospital setting. My studies also identified operons encoding WxL proteins whose characteristics could also contribute to colonization and virulence within this species.


E. faecium, MLST, pbp5, WxL



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