Non-typeable pneumococci circulating in Portugal are of cps type NCC2 and have genomic features typical of encapsulated isolates

Débora A. Tavares, Alexandra S. Simões, Hester J. Bootsma, Peter W M Hermans, Herminia Garcez Lencastre, Raquel Sá-Leão

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pneumococcus is a major human pathogen and the polysaccharide capsule is considered its main virulence factor. Nevertheless, strains lacking a capsule, named non-typeable pneumococcus (NT), are maintained in nature and frequently colonise the human nasopharynx. Interest in these strains, not targeted by any of the currently available pneumococcal vaccines, has been rising as they seem to play an important role in the evolution of the species. Currently, there is a paucity of data regarding this group of pneumococci. Also, questions have been raised on whether they are true pneumococci. We aimed to obtain insights in the genetic content of NT and the mechanisms leading to non-typeability and to genetic diversity. Results: A collection of 52 NT isolates representative of the lineages circulating in Portugal between 1997 and 2007, as determined by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and multilocus sequence typing, was analysed. The capsular region was sequenced and comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) using a microarray covering the genome of 10 pneumococcal strains was carried out. The presence of mobile elements was investigated as source of intraclonal variation. NT circulating in Portugal were found to have similar capsular regions, of cps type NCC2, i.e., having aliB-like ORF1 and aliB-like ORF2 genes. The core genome of NT was essentially similar to that of encapsulated strains. Also, competence genes and most virulence genes were present. The few virulence genes absent in all NT were the capsular genes, type-I and type-II pili, choline-binding protein A (cbpA/pspC), and pneumococcal surface protein A (pspA). Intraclonal variation could not be entirely explained by the presence of prophages and other mobile elements. Conclusions: NT circulating in Portugal are a homogeneous group belonging to cps type NCC2. Our observations support the theory that they are bona-fide pneumococcal isolates that do not express the capsule but are otherwise essentially similar to encapsulated pneumococci. Thus we propose that NT should be routinely identified and reported in surveillance studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number863
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2014

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