A significant proportion of group B Streptococcus (GBS) neonatal disease, particularly late-onset disease, is associated with strains of serotype III, clonal complex (CC) 17. CC17 strains also cause invasive infections in adults. Little is known about the phylogenetic relationships of isolates recovered from neonatal and adult CC17 invasive infections. We performed whole-genome-based phylogenetic analysis of 93 temporally and geographically matched CC17 strains isolated from both neonatal and adult invasive infections in the metropolitan region of Toronto/Peel, Canada. We also mined the whole-genome data to reveal mobile genetic elements carrying antimicrobial resistance genes. We discovered that CC17 GBS strains causing neonatal and adult invasive disease are interspersed and cluster tightly in a phylogenetic tree, signifying that they are derived from the same genetic pool. We identified limited variation due to recombination in the core CC17 genome. We describe that loss of Pilus Island 1 and acquisition of different mobile genetic elements carrying determinants of antimicrobial resistance contribute to CC17 genetic diversity. Acquisition of some of these mobile genetic elements appears to correlate with clonal expansion of the strains that possess them. Our results provide a genome-wide portrait of the population structure and evolution of a major disease-causing clone of an opportunistic pathogen.
The opportunistic pathogen group B Streptococcus (GBS, also known as Streptococcus agalactiae) is one of the leading causes of neonatal bacterial infections worldwide, commonly resulting in pneumonia, septicemia, or meningitis1. GBS neonatal infections present as two distinct clinical syndromes: early-onset disease (EOD), characterized by onset of disease during the first 6 days of life; and late-onset disease (LOD), characterized by onset of symptoms from day 7 up to 3 months of age. The highest incidence of disease occurs during the first 3 months of life, but many cases have been recorded among infants aged >90 days, leading to the concept of ultra-LOD2. Decades of investigation have shown a remarkable association of serotype III, sequence type (ST) 17 GBS strains with neonatal disease, particularly with LOD3,4,5,6. Strains of this genetic background and a few other closely related STs included in the clonal complex (CC) 17 have historically been designated as hypervirulent6,7,8. The virulence arsenal of ST17 strains has been deciphered in part9. Notably, strains of this genetic lineage possess an adhesin known as HvgA that confers an enhanced ability to invade the central nervous system of neonates9,10,11. Other surface adhesins such as Srr1, Srr2 and FbsC are thought to play important roles in GBS adaptation and host specificity12,13. In addition, three pilus islands (PI), PI-1, PI-2a and PI-2b, which encode distinct pilus structures, have been identified in GBS and shown to mediate interactions with host cells14,15. Human isolates of GBS CC17 strains lack FbsC and Srr1 but possess Srr2 and both PI-1 and PI-2b9,13,16.
In addition to neonatal disease, GBS can cause disease in adults, particularly among the elderly and those that are immunocompromised17,18. Most cases of GBS disease in adults have been associated with serotype V strains, particularly those belonging to CC117,19,20. We recently described the emergence of CC1 serotype IV among adult infections in Toronto, Canada21 and also noticed a substantial number of serotype III, CC17 strains among GBS adult invasive infections in the area22. Recently, Da Cunha et al. performed genomic analysis of a convenience sample of 71 temporally disparate CC17 isolates, recovered mainly in European and African countries and described a relatively modest level of intra-CC17 phylogenetic diversity23. However, most isolates in the collection examined by these authors were from carriage (N = 24) or neonatal disease (N = 42) (5 strains were isolated from patients of unreported age)23. Thus, fundamental questions regarding the phylogenetic relationships between CC17 GBS strains causing disease in neonates and adults cannot be answered from these data. In particular, it is unclear if invasive strains causing disease in adults represent a distinct genetic subpopulation of CC17 strains or if, alternatively, they belong to the same population that causes invasive disease in neonates. Horizontal transfer of genetic material plays a significant role in GBS genome evolution23,24,25. Recently, it was hypothesized that expansion of GBS clones causing human disease was linked to acquisition of resistance to tetracycline23. It was also suggested that the expansion of CC1 GBS among adults may be associated with acquisition of resistance to macrolide and lincosamide antibiotics. Independent studies support this hypothesis19,26. However, it is unknown whether acquisition of antibiotic resistance is associated with age tropism in CC17 GBS.
Here, we sequenced the genomes of 93 temporally and geographically matched CC17 GBS strains isolated from both neonatal and adult invasive infections and performed whole-genome-based phylogenetic analysis to evaluate the hypothesis that CC17 strains causing disease in neonates and adults originate from the same genetic pool. We also investigated antimicrobial resistance gene content among CC17 strains. We report that CC17 strains associated with neonatal and adult disease are members of the same population and provide evidence that acquisition of mobile genetic elements (MGEs) carrying antibiotic resistance genes and loss of pilus islands contribute to variation among the CC17 GBS lineage.
Strain collection, age groups and source of isolates
We assembled a population-based collection of 93 serotype III CC17 isolates (Table S1), representing 14% of the total burden of GBS invasive disease in the metropolitan area of Toronto/Peel, Canada, during the period of 2009 to 201222. Most (N = 85, 91%) of the isolates were ST17. We also identified three ST148, two ST31 and one strain each of ST95, ST290 and ST484 among the serotype III collection. These other STs are all CC17 single locus variants of ST17. Ten strains (11%) were isolated from EOD cases (Fig. 1a). LOD isolates comprised 41 isolates (44%). The mean patient age for this group was 33 days old (range 7–87 days). Four strains (4%) were isolated from neonates >90 days (ultra-LOD, 4%); the mean age in this group was 105 days (range 95–117 days). One isolate was recovered from a child aged 10 years old. Thirty-seven isolates (40%) were collected from adults (average age 59 years; range 25.8–97.5 years). The isolates were recovered from blood (N=79, 85%), cerebrospinal fluid (N=6, 6%), synovial fluid (N=3, 3%), tissue (N=2, 2%) and pleural fluid (N=3, 3%) (Fig. 1b).
Closure of a CC17 reference genome
A single ST17 GBS complete genome is available in GenBank (strain COH1, Accession number HG939456). However, this strain was isolated in the United States more than three decades ago27 and thus is temporally and geographically unrelated to our collection of CC17 organisms. To facilitate downstream whole-genome analysis, we decided to sequence to closure the genome of an arbitrarily chosen ST17 GBS strain from our collection. Strain NGBS128, isolated from a case of LOD in 2010 had a genome of 2,074,179 bp, encoding 1,981 CDSs, 21 rRNA and 80 tRNA (Fig. 2a). The genome G + C content was 35.73%. We identified 8 major MGEs, including the tetM-containing integrative and conjugative element Tn5801. NGBS128 also had a 4,944 bp plasmid carrying the gene ermT. This plasmid (pNGBS128) was shown by BLASTN to be 99% similar to the previously described28 GBS plasmid pCCH208 (GenBank Accession KJ778678) (Fig. 2b). pNGBS128 was also highly similar to the GBS plasmid pGB2001 (GenBank Accession JF308630). We identified 1,892 common gene clusters between NGBS128 and COH1 (Fig. 2c). There was a high degree of synteny between genomes and differences in gene content were mainly due to different MGE content (Fig. 2d). NGBS128 contains eight MGEs which combined comprise approximately 210 kbp, while COH1 also contains eight MGEs that combined comprise approximately 170 kbp. Despite the temporal and geographic differences between the strains, the NGBS128 core genome was >99.9% similar by BLASTN identity to strain COH1. We only identified 79 SNPs and 16 insertions/deletions between NGBS128 and COH1 in the concatenated sequence of the 1,892 common genes of these strains.
Whole-genome, single-nucleotide polymorphism-based phylogeny of CC17 strains
To precisely define phylogenetic relationships between neonatal and adult CC17 strains we performed whole-genome SNP-based phylogenetic analysis. We identified a total of 2,442 polymorphisms among the 93 CC17 strains, or an average of 82 polymorphisms per strain (range: 9–250), relative to the core genome of reference strain NGBS128. We next evaluated recombination using BratNextGen. Results of this analysis identified two areas of recombination among 11 strains (Fig. S1 and Fig. S2). Although recombination is a common feature of GBS24, a recent report described low rates of recombination (3% of the genome) among CC17 strains23. Likely because our isolates are from the same geographical area and are temporally matched, our results showed an even lower rate of recombination (0.68% of the core genome of strain NGBS128), which involved an area of approximately 12 kbp in 9 strains and an area of approximately 500 bp in 2 strains (Fig. S1 and Fig. S2). However, it is worth noting that the areas of the genome that we identified as having undergone recombination encode, among others, the two component system CiaHR (Fig. S2), which has been described as an important factor in GBS intracellular survival and invasive disease pathogenesis29.
Once areas of recombination were removed from the analysis, the amount of genetic variation was very similar in the neonatal CC17 population (total of 1,390 SNPs, average of 79 SNPs per strain, relative to the core genome of the reference strain NGBS128) and the temporally and geographically matched adult CC17 population (total of 1,277 SNPs, average of 76 SNPs per strain, relative to the core genome of the reference strain) (see Tables S2 and S3). Thus, genetic variation in neonatal and adult CC17 GBS is virtually identical. To investigate the issue in more detail, we sought to determine if neonatal and adult strains clustered in identical or distinct branches of a neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree built using the 2,389 non-redundant SNPs identified among all strains in the collection relative to the core genome of the NGBS128 reference strain. The analysis revealed that, overall, adult and neonatal strains were interspersed and clustered tightly with one another in phylogenetic trees (Fig. 3 and Fig. S3). This finding effectively rules out the hypothesis that adult GBS isolates represent only one or a limited subset of CC17 lineages. Thus, we conclude that, as a population, CC17 strains causing adult and neonatal infections originate from the same genetic pool and appear to have closely similar evolutionary histories.
Independent loss of Pilus Island 1 in some CC17 strains
CC17 strains have been shown to primarily possess PI-1 and PI-2b30,31 and this was the most common pilus profile found among our strains (Fig. 3). However, while all 93 isolates carried PI-2b, we discovered that the PI-1 locus was absent from the genomes of 12 strains forming two unrelated clades (Fig. 3, highlighted in red in the cladogram). Interestingly, among strains with PI-2b only, all but one were isolates recovered from neonatal infections (8 LOD, 1 ultra-LOD and 2 EOD). The exception was one strain from an adult (31 years old, isolated in 2010). Loss of PI-1 is a common phenomenon in GBS32. However, among CC17, loss of PI-1 had only been described among bovine isolates32 until very recently, when a report from China showed that a majority (10 out 14) of CC17 isolates from human carriage were devoid of this locus33. The loss of PI-1 appears to have occurred independently twice in our strains, as revealed by phylogenetic analysis (Fig. 3). Interestingly, all strains of one of these clades (n = 8) had also undergone recombination at the two component system CiaHR locus (Fig. S1 and Fig. S2).
Antibiotic resistance gene content among CC17 GBS
It has recently been suggested that acquisition of genetic determinants conferring tetracycline resistance has contributed to selection of GBS clones causing disease in humans23. Consistent with this hypothesis, we detected that 99% of the strains in our CC17 collection carried genes conferring tetracycline resistance. Most strains (91%) contained one of two tetM alleles (Fig. 3). Twelve strains (belonging to the abovementioned two clusters devoid of PI-1) possessed the tetO gene and three of these strains had both tetM and tetO. Isolates possessing both tetM and tetO have likely independently acquired MGEs harboring these antibiotic resistance genes (see below). We identified a single strain that did not contain any tetracycline resistance gene.
An association between acquisition of resistance to macrolides and expansion of certain CC1 GBS clones causing disease in adults has recently been reported23,26. We identified that 48% of the CC17 strains in our collection possessed macrolide resistance determinants. Of note, 32 strains (34% of the collection) including the reference strain NGBS128 were found to possess a plasmid-encoded copy of ermT gene. This gene was recently described to occur on small, mobilizable, broad-host-range plasmids in both GBS and group A Streptococcus34. While our phylogenetic analysis is suggestive of ongoing expansion of the strains possessing ermT, we discovered that five strains had lost this plasmid in at least four independent events (Fig. 3). To investigate whether CC17 strains isolated in other geographies possess this plasmid, we downloaded from the NCBI’s Sequence Read Archive genome data for 70 CC17 isolates collected in several European and African countries, Australia and the United States23. We were unable to detect pNGBS128 in the short-read genome data of these strains. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that our CC17 strains carrying this ermT-containing plasmid clustered tightly in the phylogenetic tree (Fig. 3 and Fig. S4). Thus, strains containing pNGBS128 appear to be so far specific to Canada. We also discovered that all 12 strains that had lost PI-1 have acquired genes ermB, tetO and aminoglycoside resistance genes ant(6′)-1a and aph(3′)-III, likely in a single recombination event (see below). Interestingly, these 12 strains were for the most part (11/12, 92%) associated with neonatal disease. Among the abovementioned collection of GBS strains isolated elsewhere, only 2 of 70 CC17 isolates contained ermB and both were from LOD cases23. In our collection, two strains possessing gene ermB also had macrolide resistance genes mefA and msrD. One of these strains also had the lincosamide resistance gene lnuB. One ermB-containing isolate also had gene lnuB, without other macrolide resistance genes. Finally, we identified one strain possessing a chromosomal copy of the ermTR gene (Fig. 3).
Antibiotic resistance determinants are carried by distinct MGEs
MGEs make fundamental contributions to new habitat adaptation and the emergence of new lineages25,35. Strains in our collection have acquired and/or lost genes conferring resistance to several antibiotics. As mentioned above, gene ermT is carried on a plasmid. However, most other resistance genes were found to be chromosomally encoded. To investigate the issue in more detail, we sought to determine what MGEs carried these antibiotic genes. Our analysis identified two distinct MGEs carrying different tetM alleles among strains in our collection. The first, identified by BLASTN homology comparisons as Tn5801 and carrying tetM allele 7, was identified in the reference strain NGBS128 and in 69 additional strains (Fig. 4a and Table S4). This ICE was found to be integrated at the 5′ end of the guaA gene, an insertion hotspot previously identified in GBS24. The amino acid sequence of this tetM allele was 100% similar to tetM sequences found in Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus and other GBS strains. The second ICE, identified by BLASTN homology comparisons as Tn916 and carrying tetM allele 8, was found in strain NGBS026 and 12 additional strains (Fig. 4b and Table S4). These two tetM alleles are 92% similar by amino acid identity. We also identified an MGE in strain NGBS417, which carries macrolide resistance encoded by gene ermTR. This element was found immediately upstream of PI-1 (Fig. 5a and Table S5). Finally, we also identified that 12 strains possessed an MGE carrying tetO, ermB, ant(6)-Ia and aph(3′)-III. When we examined the de novo assemblies of these strains, we discovered that the ermB-containing MGE had integrated at same genome location where PI-1 is expected to be found based on the genome sequence of reference strain NGBS128 (Fig. 5b and Table S5).
The phylogenetic relationships between CC17 strains causing neonatal and adult invasive disease is poorly known, in part because the GBS MLST scheme traditionally used for genotyping GBS strains does not permit sufficient discrimination between strains36. Specifically, it was not known whether disease in these two groups of age is caused by particular subsets of CC17 genotypes. Technological advances now allow us to address these issues at the whole-genome level in large populations of strains. Here, using whole-genome data for a temporally and geographically matched set of 93 CC17 strains, we unambiguously show that CC17 organisms causing EOD, LOD, ultra-LOD and adult disease originate from the same genetic pool and do not constitute separate genetic subsets. Instead, strains from neonates and adult disease cluster tightly and are interspersed in a phylogenetic tree. Another limitation of MLST is that it cannot identify extensive genomic variation in most cases. On the other hand, analysis of WGS data can easily detect recombination involving vast genomic regions. For example, we recently showed that a serotype V strain of ST297 (by MLST, a single-locus variant of CC1 founder ST1) has undergone recombination involving approximately 14% of its genome22. However and despite the fact that large-scale recombination leading to capsular locus replacements in CC17 has been reported22,37, recombination analysis in our CC17 collection of invasive organisms did not uncover extensive core genome recombination. Recombination was detected mostly among ST17 strains and only in one non-ST17 CC17 strain. While the non-ST17 STs included in our CC17 collection are single locus variants of ST17, the genomes of these non-ST17 strains only differed from the typical ST17 genome by, on average, 134 SNPs. Our results echo recent findings describing a relatively low rate of recombination among CC17 strains23.
Although core genome recombination among our strain collection was minimal, we identified that loss of genetic material resulting in strains that are devoid of PI-1 occurred on at least two independent occasions. Loss of pilus islands is common among non-CC17 GBS lineages32. It has also been reported previously among CC17 isolates of bovine origin32 but until very recently, all studied human CC17 isolates had been shown to possess this pilus island38,39. However, Lu et al. recently analyzed CC17 carriage isolates and found that most strains (10 out 14) were devoid of PI-133. Since these authors did not sequence the genomes of these CC17 strains, we cannot relate our findings to their results. However, one hypothesis is that their and our CC17 isolates that lack PI-1 are members of a recently emerged clone that is expanding. Of note, all of our strains devoid of PI-1 have acquired a MGE element encoding resistance to tetracycline, macrolides and other antibiotics. Since the MGE was integrated at the same location where PI-1 is expected, we speculate that loss of PI-1 and acquisition of this MGE occurred simultaneously. Since PI-1 is a potential vaccine candidate40, loss or replacement of this locus may have implications for the protection offered by pilus subunit-based vaccines.
Our genomic analysis revealed that MGEs were also responsible for a relatively important level of non-core genome intra-CC17 variation. In a number of cases, these MGE carried genetic determinants of resistance against antimicrobial drugs. For example, we identified that most strains (92/93, 99%) possessed one of two tetM alleles, and/or the tetO gene, conferring resistance to tetracycline. These genes were found to be carried in at least three different MGEs. We also discovered that resistance to macrolides was encoded by genes carried on at least two different MGEs and on one plasmid. It has been suggested that the acquisition of resistance to macrolides has led to expansion of CC1 GBS in adults23,26. While our data seems to suggest ongoing clonal expansion of CC17 strains possessing a plasmid carrying ermT, we did not find a clear association between adult CC17 disease and macrolide resistance.
In summary, we report here the population structure of CC17 GBS causing invasive infections in Toronto, Canada and provide conclusive evidence showing that strains causing neonatal and adult disease originate from the same genetic pool. We also show low levels of intra-CC17 core genome recombination, but describe that PI-1 loss and acquisition of both chromosomal and extrachromosomal MGEs encoding antimicrobial resistance contribute to diversity among this group of organisms. Our study highlights the usefulness of WGS data analysis of population-based strain samples to provide novel information about opportunistic pathogens causing human disease.
Isolate collection and growth conditions
Our collection comprised 93 previously described22 serotype III, CC17 GBS isolates recovered from patients with invasive diseases in the metropolitan region of Toronto/Peel, Canada (population under surveillance approx. 5,000,000), between January 2009 and October 2012 (listed in Table S1). For 5 patients, multiple isolates were included (collected either from more than one body site or on multiple dates). Therefore, our collection of 93 isolates represents 86 unique patients (Table S1). Strain COH1 was kindly provided by Dr. M. Segura (University of Montreal). GBS strains were grown in Todd Hewitt Broth supplemented with 0.2% yeast extract or on sheep blood agar plates at 37 °C with 5% CO2. DNA was prepared using the QIAamp DNA minikit (Qiagen, Toronto, ON, Canada) as per manufacturers’ recommendations for Gram-positive organisms.
Strain NGBS128 was arbitrarily chosen as the reference strain for genomic comparisons. Its genome was sequenced to closure using PacBio SMRT sequencing technology (Pacific Biosciences, Menlo Park, CA, USA), as previously described26. Briefly, two SMRT cells of sequence were generated, resulting in >70,000 reads exceeding 3 kb in length (average length of 5,374 bp, total coverage of 187×). To assess base-calling accuracy in the PacBio assembly, genomic libraries were generated using Nextera XT kits (Illumina, San Diego, CA, USA) and sequenced as paired-end (150 bp + 150 bp) with a MiSeq instrument (Illumina). The genome assembly was completely concordant with full length perfectly aligning Illumina short-reads. Since the PacBio protocol we used had a DNA size selection step with a cut-off of 20 kbp, we performed de novo assembly of the Illumina reads using the A5 pipeline41 to detect plasmid DNA. Generated contigs were aligned to the PacBio assemblies using progressiveMauve42. One contig of approximately 4.9 kbp did not align to the chromosomal assembly of strain NGBS128 and corresponded to plasmid DNA. We used primer walking and Sanger sequencing to circularize the plasmid (primers listed in Table S6). Genome annotation and identification of rRNA-encoding and tRNA-encoding regions were performed with Prokka43. MGEs of strain NGBS128 were defined with PHAST44 and by manual inspection of annotated sequences. Sequence data of strain NGBS128 and plasmid pNGBS128 were deposited in GenBank under accession number CP012480 and CP012742, respectively. The genomes of all remaining isolates and the genome of strain COH1, were sequenced as paired-end reads (101 bp + 101 bp, or 150 bp + 150 bp) using HiSeq 2500 or MiSeq instruments (Illumina). The Sequence Read Archive (SRA) accession numbers for all isolates are provided in Table S1.
MLST and Pilus Typing
MLST was determined directly from the whole-genome sequence reads using the read-mapping tool SRST245. Pilus island content was assessed from de novo assemblies of short-read genome data generated using the A5 pipeline41 and by in silico alignment of genome sequence reads to pilus island genes using the MOSAIK aligner46. Results were confirmed using previously described PCR tests targeting GBS pilus islands39.
Phylogenetic analysis and antimicrobial resistance determinants
Ortholog analysis was performed using PGAP47. Recombination analysis was performed using BRATNextGen48 run with 20 iterations and 100 replicates, with a p-value of 0.05 as the significance cut-off. Polymorphisms relative to the core genome (i.e. the approximately 1.9 Mbp area of the genome devoid of MGEs and areas of recombination) of strain NGBS128 were identified using the variant ascertainment algorithm VAAL49. Neighbor-joining phylogenetic trees (1,000 bootstrap replications) were constructed based on concatenated biallelic core SNPs using SplitsTree50 and TreeDyn51. Strain SS119 was used to outroot the tree. SRST2 and a database of 1,913 genes were used to detect antibiotic resistant determinants among the CC17 GBS strains45. Contigs from de novo assemblies were ordered against the genome sequence of strain NGBS128 using progressiveMauve42, then concatenated using the sequence NNNNNCATTCCATTCATTAATTAATTAATGAATGAATGNNNNN, which introduces start and stop codons in all 6 reading frames, as a separator. MGEs that containing antibiotic resistance determinants were defined by manual inspection and BLAST of the de novo assembled contigs as described by Brochet et al.24. Genome visualizations were generated with BRIG52.
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We thank Taryn B.T. Athey for bioinformatics assistance. We thank Dax Torti (Donnelly Centre, University of Toronto) and the staff at Public Health Ontario (PHO) Genome Core for Illumina sequencing of our strains. This work was supported by Public Health Ontario.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Teatero, S., Ramoutar, E., McGeer, A. et al. Clonal Complex 17 Group B Streptococcus strains causing invasive disease in neonates and adults originate from the same genetic pool. Sci Rep 6, 20047 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep20047
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