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Parallel evolution of two clades of a major Atlantic endemic Vibrio parahaemolyticus pathogen lineage by independent acquisition of related pathogenicity islands

By Feng Xu, Narjol Gonzalez-Escalona, Kevin P. Drees, Robert P. Sebra, Vaughn S Cooper, Stephen H. Jones, Cheryl A. Whistler

Posted 24 Jun 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/155234 (published DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01168-17)

Shellfish-transmitted Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections have recently increased from locations with historically low disease incidence, such as the Northeast United States (US). This change coincided with a bacterial population shift towards human pathogenic variants occurring in part through the introduction of several Pacific native lineages (ST36, ST43 and ST636) to near-shore areas off the Atlantic coast of the Northeast US. Concomitantly, ST631 emerged as a major endemic pathogen. Phylogenetic trees of clinical and environmental isolates indicated that two clades diverged from a common ST631 ancestor, and in each of these clades, a human pathogenic variant evolved independently through acquisition of distinct Vibrio pathogenicity islands (VPaI). These VPaI differ from each other and bear little resemblance to hemolysin-containing VPaI from isolates of the pandemic clonal complex. Clade I ST631 isolates either harbored no hemolysins, or contained a chromosome I-inserted island we call VPaIβ that encodes a type three secretion system (T3SS2β) typical of Trh hemolysin-producers. The more clinically prevalent and clonal ST631 clade II had an island we call VPaIγ that encodes both tdh and trh and that was inserted in chromosome II. VPaIγ was derived from VPaIβ but with some additional acquired elements in common with VPaI carried by pandemic isolates, exemplifying the mosaic nature of pathogenicity islands. Genomics comparisons and amplicon assays identified VPaIγ-type islands containing tdh inserted adjacent to the ure cluster in the three introduced Pacific and most other emergent lineages. that collectively cause 67% of Northeast US infections as of 2016. The availability of three different hemolysin genotypes in the ST631 lineage provided a unique opportunity to employ genome comparisons to further our understanding of the processes underlying pathogen evolution. The fact that two different pathogenic clades arose in parallel from the same potentially benign lineage by independent VPaI acquisition is surprising considering the historically low prevalence of community members harboring VPaI in waters along the Northeast US Coast that could serve as the source of this material. This illustrates a possible predisposition of some lineages to not only acquire foreign DNA but also to become human pathogens. Whereas the underlying cause for the expansion of V. parahaemolyticus lineages harboring VPaIγ along the US Atlantic coast and spread of this element to multiple lineages that underlies disease emergence is not known, this work underscores the need to define the environment factors that favor bacteria harboring VPaI in locations of emergent disease.

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