The sexually transmitted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae is regarded as being on the way to becoming an untreatable superbug. Despite its clinical importance, little is known about its emergence and evolution, and how this corresponds with the introduction of antimicrobials. We present a genome-based phylogeographical analysis of 419 gonococcal isolates from across the globe. Results indicate that modern gonococci originated in Europe or Africa, possibly as late as the sixteenth century and subsequently disseminated globally. We provide evidence that the modern gonococcal population has been shaped by antimicrobial treatment of sexually transmitted infections as well as other infections, leading to the emergence of two major lineages with different evolutionary strategies. The well-described multidrug-resistant lineage is associated with high rates of homologous recombination and infection in high-risk sexual networks. A second, multisusceptible lineage is more associated with heterosexual networks, with potential implications for infection control.
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All genomic data have been deposited in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) under project number PRJEB4024. Accession numbers for the particular strains are indicated in Supplementary Table 1. All other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information files.
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We thank H. To and O. Gascuel for their help with the LSD software, and the Pathogen Informatics group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute for informatics support. We also thank S. Szreter, T. Bayliss-Smith and P. Mitchell from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, for interesting discussions on the historical evidence of gonorrhoea infection. The Japanese isolates were kindly provided by Y. Watanabe and T. Kuroki, Department of Microbiology, Kanagawa Prefectural Institute of Public Health, Kanagawa, Japan. This work was funded by the Wellcome grant number 098051 and the Foundation for Medical Research at Örebro University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden. J.C. was funded by the ERC grant number 745258. Y.H.G. is supported by The Smith Family Foundation and the NIH/NIAID grant 1R01AI132606-01.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Sánchez-Busó, L., Golparian, D., Corander, J. et al. The impact of antimicrobials on gonococcal evolution. Nat Microbiol 4, 1941–1950 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-019-0501-y
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