Population genetic and evolutionary approaches to analysis of Neisseria meningitidis isolates belonging to the ET-5 complex.
Bygraves JA., Urwin R., Fox AJ., Gray SJ., Russell JE., Feavers IM., Maiden MC.
Periodically, new disease-associated variants of the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis arise. These meningococci diversify during spread, and related isolates recovered from different parts of the world have different genetic and antigenic characteristics. An example is the ET-5 complex, members of which were isolated globally from the mid-1970s onwards. Isolates from a hyperendemic outbreak of meningococcal disease in Worcester, England, during the late 1980s were characterized by multilocus sequence typing and sequence determination of antigen genes. These data established that the Worcester outbreak was caused by ET-5 complex meningococci which were not closely related to the ET-5 complex bacteria responsible for a hyperendemic outbreak in the nearby town of Stroud during the years preceding the Worcester outbreak. A comparison with other ET-5 complex meningococci established that there were at least three distinct globally distributed subpopulations within the ET-5 complex, characterized by particular housekeeping and antigen gene alleles. The Worcester isolates belonged to one of these subpopulations, the Stroud isolates belonged to another, and at least one representative of the third subpopulation identified in this work was isolated elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The sequence data demonstrated that ET-5 variants have arisen by multiple complex pathways involving the recombination of antigen and housekeeping genes and de novo mutation of antigen genes. The data further suggest that either the ET-5 complex has been in existence for many years, evolving and spreading relatively slowly until its disease-causing potential was recognized, or it has evolved and spread rapidly since its first identification in the 1970s, with each of the subpopulations attaining a distribution spanning several continents.