Population Genetics of Streptococcus dysgalactiae Subspecies equisimilis Reveals Widely Dispersed Clones and Extensive Recombination

Background

Streptococcus dysgalactiae subspecies equisimilis (SDSE) is an emerging global pathogen that can colonize and infect humans. Although most SDSE isolates possess the Lancefield group G carbohydrate, a significant minority have the group C carbohydrate. Isolates are further sub-typed on the basis of differences within the emm gene. To gain a better understanding of their molecular epidemiology and evolutionary relationships, multilocus sequence typing (MLST) analysis was performed on SDSE isolates collected from Australia, Europe and North America.

Methodology/Principal Findings

The 178 SDSE isolates, representing 37 emm types, segregate into 80 distinct sequence types (STs) that form 17 clonal complexes (CCs). Eight STs recovered from all three continents account for >50% of the isolates. Thus, a small number of STs are highly prevalent and have a wide geographic distribution. Both ST and CC strongly correlate with group carbohydrate. In contrast, eleven STs were associated with >1 emm type, suggestive of recombinational replacements involving the emm gene; furthermore, 35% of the emm types are associated with genetically distant STs. Data also reveal a history of extensive inter- and intra-species recombination involving the housekeeping genes used for MLST. Sequence analysis of single locus variants identified through goeBURST indicates that genetic change mediated by recombination occurred ∼4.4 times more frequently than by point mutation.

Conclusions/Significance

A few genetic lineages with an intercontinental distribution dominate among SDSE causing infections in humans. The distinction between group C and G isolates reflects recent evolution, and no long-term genetic isolation between them was found. Lateral gene transfer and recombination involving housekeeping genes and the emm gene are important mechanisms driving genetic variability in the SDSE population.