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BACKGROUND: Mycobacterial Interspersed Repetitive Unit-Variable Number Tandem Repeat (MIRU-VNTR) typing is widely used in high-income countries to determine Mycobacterium tuberculosis relatedness. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) is known to deliver greater specificity, but no quantitative prospective comparison has yet been undertaken. METHODS: We studied isolates from the English Midlands, sampled consecutively between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2015. In addition to routinely performed MIRU-VNTR typing, DNA was extracted from liquid cultures and sequenced using Illumina technology. Demographic and epidemiological data for the relevant patients were extracted from the Enhanced Tuberculosis Surveillance system run by Public Health England. Closely related samples, defined using a threshold of five single nucleotide variants (SNVs), were compared to samples with identical MIRU-VNTR profiles, to samples from individuals with shared epidemiological risk factors, and to those with both characteristics. FINDINGS: 1999 patients were identified for whom at least one M. tuberculosis isolate had been MIRU-VNTR typed and sequenced. Comparing epidemiological risk factors with close genetic relatedness, only co-residence had a positive predictive value of over 5%. Excluding co-resident individuals, 18.6% of patients with identical MIRU-VNTR profiles were within 5 SNVs. Where patients also shared social risk factors and ethnic group, this rose to 48%. Only 8% of MIRU-VNTR linked pairs in lineage 1 were within 5 SNV, compared to 31% in lineage 4. INTERPRETATION: In the setting studied, this molecular epidemiological study shows MIRU-VNTR typing and epidemiological risk factors are poorly predictive of close genomic relatedness, assessed by SNV. MIRU-VNTR performance varies markedly by lineage. FUNDING: Public Health England, Health Innovation Challenge Fund, NIHR Health Protection Research Unit Oxford, NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





122 - 130


MIRU-VNTR, Molecular epidemiology, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Outbreak investigation, Research in context, Single nucleotide variation, Adolescent, Adult, Bacterial Typing Techniques, Female, Humans, Interspersed Repetitive Sequences, Male, Minisatellite Repeats, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Prospective Studies, Tuberculosis, Whole Genome Sequencing, Young Adult