Differentiating botulinum neurotoxin-producing clostridia with a simple, multiplex PCR assay

Charles H.D. Williamson, Adam J. Vazquez, Karen Hill, Theresa J. Smith, Roxanne Nottingham, Nathan E. Stone, Colin J. Sobek, Jill H. Cocking, Rafael A. Fernández, Patricia A. Caballero, Owen P. Leiser, Paul Keim, Jason W. Sahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Diverse members of the genus Clostridium produce botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs), which cause a flaccid paralysis known as botulism. While multiple species of clostridia produce BoNTs, the majority of human botulism cases have been attributed to Clostridium botulinum groups I and II. Recent comparative genomic studies have demonstrated the genomic diversity within these BoNT-producing species. This report introduces a multiplex PCR assay for differentiating members of C. botulinum group I, C. sporogenes, and two major subgroups within C. botulinum group II. Coding region sequences unique to each of the four species/subgroups were identified by in silico analyses of thousands of genome assemblies, and PCR primers were designed to amplify each marker. The resulting multiplex PCR assay correctly assigned 41 tested isolates to the appropriate species or subgroup. A separate PCR assay to determine the presence of the ntnh gene (a gene associated with the botulinum neurotoxin gene cluster) was developed and validated. The ntnh gene PCR assay provides information about the presence or absence of the botulinum neurotoxin gene cluster and the type of gene cluster present (ha positive [ha+] or orfX+). The increased availability of whole-genome sequence data and comparative genomic tools enabled the design of these assays, which provide valuable information for characterizing BoNT-producing clostridia. The PCR assays are rapid, inexpensive tests that can be applied to a variety of sample types to assign isolates to species/subgroups and to detect clostridia with botulinum neurotoxin gene (bont) clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00806
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Biomarker
  • Clostridium botulinum
  • PCR
  • Whole-genome sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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