Genomic analysis on broiler-associated Clostridium perfringens strains and exploratory caecal microbiome investigation reveals key factors linked to poultry necrotic enteritis

Raymond Kiu, Joseph Brown, Harley Bedwell, Charlotte Leclaire, Shabhonam Caim, Derek Pickard, Gordon Dougan, Ronald A. Dixon, Lindsay J. Hall

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Background: Clostridium perfringens is a key pathogen in poultry-associated necrotic enteritis (NE). To date there are limited Whole Genome Sequencing based studies describing broiler-associated C. perfringens in healthy and diseased birds. Moreover, changes in the caecal microbiome during NE is currently not well characterised. Thus, the aim of this present study was to investigate C. perfringens virulence factors linked to health and diseased chickens, including identifying putative caecal microbiota signatures associated with NE. 

Results: We analysed 88 broiler chicken C. perfringens genomes (representing 66 publicly available genomes and 22 newly sequenced genomes) using different phylogenomics approaches and identified a potential hypervirulent and globally-distributed clone spanning 20-year time-frame (1993-2013). These isolates harbored a greater number of virulence genes (including toxin and collagen adhesin genes) when compared to other isolates. Further genomic analysis indicated exclusive and overabundant presence of important NE-linked toxin genes including netB and tpeL in NE-associated broiler isolates. Secondary virulence genes including pfoA, cpb2, and collagen adhesin genes cna, cnaA and cnaD were also enriched in the NE-linked C. perfringens genomes. Moreover, an environmental isolate obtained from farm animal feeds was found to encode netB, suggesting potential reservoirs of NetB-positive C. perfringens strains (toxinotype G). We also analysed caecal samples from a small sub-set of 11 diseased and healthy broilers for exploratory microbiome investigation using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, which indicated a significant and positive correlation in genus Clostridium within the wider microbiota of those broilers diagnosed with NE, alongside reductions in beneficial microbiota members. 

Conclusions: These data indicate a positive association of virulence genes including netB, pfoA, cpb2, tpeL and cna variants linked to NE-linked isolates. Potential global dissemination of specific hypervirulent lineage, coupled with distinctive microbiome profiles, highlights the need for further investigations, which will require a large worldwide sample collection from healthy and NE-associated birds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Toxin
  • Phylogenomics
  • Necrotic enteritis
  • Poultry
  • Caecal microbiome
  • 16S rRNA analysis

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