Genetic and Structural Variation in the O-Antigen of Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium Isolates Causing Bloodstream Infections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Van Puyvelde S., Gasperini G., Biggel M., Phoba M-F., Raso MM., de Block T., Vanheer LN., Deborggraeve S., Vandenberg O., Thomson N., Ravenscroft N., Maclennan CA., Bellich B., Cescutti P., Dougan G., Jacobs J., Lunguya O., Micoli F.
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium causes a devastating burden of invasive disease in sub-Saharan Africa with high levels of antimicrobial resistance. No licensed vaccine is available, but O-antigen-based candidates are in development, as the O-antigen moiety of lipopolysaccharides is the principal target of protective immunity. The vaccines under development are designed based on isolates with O-antigen O-acetylated at position C-2 of abequose, giving the O:5 antigen. Serotyping data on recent Salmonella Typhimurium clinical isolates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), however, indicate increasing levels of isolates without O:5. The importance and distribution of this loss of O:5 antigen in the population as well as the genetic mechanism responsible for the loss and chemical characteristics of the O-antigen are poorly understood. In this study, we Illumina whole-genome sequenced 354 Salmonella Typhimurium isolates from the DRC, which were isolated between 2002 and 2017. We used genomics and phylogenetics combined with chemical approaches (1H nuclear magnetic resonance [NMR], high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection [HPAEC-PAD], high-performance liquid chromatography-PAD [HPLC-PAD], and HPLC-size exclusion chromatography [HPLC-SEC]) to characterize the O-antigen features within the bacterial population. We observed convergent evolution toward the loss of the O:5 epitope predominantly caused by recombination events in a single gene, the O-acetyltransferase gene oafA. In addition, we observe further O-antigen variations, including O-acetylation of the rhamnose residue, different levels of glucosylation, and the absence of O-antigen repeating units. Large recombination events underlying O-antigen variation were resolved using long-read MinION sequencing. Our study suggests evolutionary pressure toward O-antigen variants in a region where invasive disease by Salmonella Typhimurium is highly endemic. This needs to be taken into account when developing O-antigen-based vaccines, as it might impact the breadth of coverage in such regions. IMPORTANCE The bacterium Salmonella Typhimurium forms a devastating burden in sub-Saharan Africa by causing invasive bloodstream infections. Additionally, Salmonella Typhimurium presents high levels of antimicrobial resistance, jeopardizing treatment. No licensed vaccine is available, but candidates are in development, with lipopolysaccharides being the principal target of protective immunity. The vaccines under development are designed based on the O:5 antigen variant of bacterial lipopolysaccharides. Data on recent Salmonella Typhimurium clinical isolates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), however, indicate increasing levels of isolates without this O:5 antigen. We studied this loss of O:5 antigen in the population at the genetic and chemical levels. We genome sequenced 354 isolates from the DRC and used advanced bioinformatics and chemical methods to characterize the lipopolysaccharide features within the bacterial population. Our results suggest evolutionary pressure toward O-antigen variants. This needs to be taken into account when developing vaccines, as it might impact vaccine coverage.