Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery 2020; 33(02): 058-066
DOI: 10.1055/s-0040-1701230
Review Article
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Clostridioides difficile Spores: Bile Acid Sensors and Trojan Horses of Transmission

Aimee Shen
1  Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
25 February 2020 (online)


The Gram-positive, spore-forming bacterium, Clostridioides difficile is the leading cause of healthcare-associated infections in the United States, although it also causes a significant number of community-acquired infections. C. difficile infections, which range in severity from mild diarrhea to toxic megacolon, cost more to treat than matched infections, with an annual treatment cost of approximately $6 billion for almost half-a-million infections. These high–treatment costs are due to the high rates of C. difficile disease recurrence (>20%) and necessity for special disinfection measures. These complications arise in part because C. difficile makes metabolically dormant spores, which are the major infectious particle of this obligate anaerobe. These seemingly inanimate life forms are inert to antibiotics, resistant to commonly used disinfectants, readily disseminated, and capable of surviving in the environment for a long period of time. However, upon sensing specific bile salts in the vertebrate gut, C. difficile spores transform back into the vegetative cells that are responsible for causing disease. This review discusses how spores are ideal vectors for disease transmission and how antibiotics modulate this process. We also describe the resistance properties of spores and how they create challenges eradicating spores, as well as promote their spread. Lastly, environmental reservoirs of C. difficile spores and strategies for destroying them particularly in health care environments will be discussed.