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1.  16S rRNA Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism for the Characterization of the Nasopharyngeal Microbiota 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52241.
A novel non-culture based 16S rRNA Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (T-RFLP) method using the restriction enzymes Tsp509I and Hpy166II was developed for the characterization of the nasopharyngeal microbiota and validated using recently published 454 pyrosequencing data. 16S rRNA gene T-RFLP for 153 clinical nasopharyngeal samples from infants with acute otitis media (AOM) revealed 5 Tsp509I and 6 Hpy166II terminal fragments (TFs) with a prevalence of >10%. Cloning and sequencing identified all TFs with a prevalence >6% allowing a sufficient description of bacterial community changes for the most important bacterial taxa. The conjugated 7-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PCV-7) and prior antibiotic exposure had significant effects on the bacterial composition in an additive main effects and multiplicative interaction model (AMMI) in concordance with the 16S rRNA 454 pyrosequencing data. In addition, the presented T-RFLP method is able to discriminate S. pneumoniae from other members of the Mitis group of streptococci, which therefore allows the identification of one of the most important human respiratory tract pathogens. This is usually not achieved by current high throughput sequencing protocols. In conclusion, the presented 16S rRNA gene T-RFLP method is a highly robust, easy to handle and a cheap alternative to the computationally demanding next-generation sequencing analysis. In case a lot of nasopharyngeal samples have to be characterized, it is suggested to first perform 16S rRNA T-RFLP and only use next generation sequencing if the T-RFLP nasopharyngeal patterns differ or show unknown TFs.
PMCID: PMC3527403  PMID: 23284951
2.  Automated Counting of Bacterial Colony Forming Units on Agar Plates 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33695.
Manual counting of bacterial colony forming units (CFUs) on agar plates is laborious and error-prone. We therefore implemented a colony counting system with a novel segmentation algorithm to discriminate bacterial colonies from blood and other agar plates.
A colony counter hardware was designed and a novel segmentation algorithm was written in MATLAB. In brief, pre-processing with Top-Hat-filtering to obtain a uniform background was followed by the segmentation step, during which the colony images were extracted from the blood agar and individual colonies were separated. A Bayes classifier was then applied to count the final number of bacterial colonies as some of the colonies could still be concatenated to form larger groups.
To assess accuracy and performance of the colony counter, we tested automated colony counting of different agar plates with known CFU numbers of S. pneumoniae, P. aeruginosa and M. catarrhalis and showed excellent performance.
PMCID: PMC3308999  PMID: 22448267
3.  Capsule Type of Streptococcus pneumoniae Determines Growth Phenotype 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(3):e1002574.
The polysaccharide capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae defines over ninety serotypes, which differ in their carriage prevalence and invasiveness for poorly understood reasons. Recently, an inverse correlation between carriage prevalence and oligosaccharide structure of a given capsule has been described. Our previous work suggested a link between serotype and growth in vitro. Here we investigate whether capsule production interferes with growth in vitro and whether this predicts carriage prevalence in vivo. Eighty-one capsule switch mutants were constructed representing nine different serotypes, five of low (4, 7F, 14, 15, 18C) and four of high carriage prevalence (6B, 9V, 19F, 23F). Growth (length of lag phase, maximum optical density) of wildtype strains, nontypeable mutants and capsule switch mutants was studied in nutrient-restricted Lacks medium (MLM) and in rich undefined brain heart infusion broth supplemented with 5% foetal calf serum (BHI+FCS). In MLM growth phenotype depended on, and was transferred with, capsule operon type. Colonization efficiency of mouse nasopharynx also depended on, and was transferred with, capsule operon type. Capsule production interfered with growth, which correlated inversely with serotype-specific carriage prevalence. Serotypes with better growth and higher carriage prevalence produced thicker capsules (by electron microscopy, FITC-dextran exclusion assays and HPLC) than serotypes with delayed growth and low carriage prevalence. However, expression of cpsA, the first capsule gene, (by quantitative RT-PCR) correlated inversely with capsule thickness. Energy spent for capsule production (incorporation of H3-glucose) relative to amount of capsule produced was higher for serotypes with low carriage prevalence. Experiments in BHI+FCS showed overall better bacterial growth and more capsule production than growth in MLM and differences between serotypes were no longer apparent. Production of polysaccharide capsule in S. pneumoniae interferes with growth in nutrient-limiting conditions probably by competition for energy against the central metabolism. Serotype-specific nasopharyngeal carriage prevalence in vivo is predicted by the growth phenotype.
Author Summary
Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria are responsible for serious human infections including meningitis, pneumonia and bacteraemia and are a common cause of otitis media (ear infection) in children. However, they most often reside harmlessly in the infant nasopharynx. An association has long been observed between the type of polysaccharide capsule surrounding the bacteria and harmless colonization versus invasive disease. Here we suggest that capsule types that are costly for the bacteria to make are produced in lower quantities and their production limits the growth of the bacteria in nutrient-restricted conditions. In contrast, bacteria with capsules that require less energy can produce more capsule and grow more successfully. This may be an explanation for why S. pneumoniae with certain capsule types can be effective long-term colonizers of the nasopharynx while others need a richer nutritional environment to flourish and so are most often associated with invasive disease. This information may be of use when considering which capsules types to target in future vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3297593  PMID: 22412375
4.  Decrease in Pneumococcal Co-Colonization following Vaccination with the Seven-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30235.
Understanding the epidemiology of pneumococcal co-colonization is important for monitoring vaccine effectiveness and the occurrence of horizontal gene transfer between pneumococcal strains. In this study we aimed to evaluate the impact of the seven-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) on pneumococcal co-colonization among Portuguese children. Nasopharyngeal samples from children up to 6 years old yielding a pneumococcal culture were clustered into three groups: pre-vaccine era (n = 173), unvaccinated children of the vaccine era (n = 169), and fully vaccinated children (4 doses; n = 150). Co-colonization, serotype identification, and relative serotype abundance were detected by analysis of DNA of the total bacterial growth of the primary culture plate using the plyNCR-RFLP method and a molecular serotyping microarray-based strategy. The plyNCR-RFLP method detected an overall co-colonization rate of 20.1%. Microarray analysis confirmed the plyNCR-RFLP results. Vaccination status was the only factor found to be significantly associated with co-colonization: co-colonization rates were significantly lower (p = 0.004; Fisher's exact test) among fully vaccinated children (8.0%) than among children from the pre-PCV7 era (17.3%) or unvaccinated children of the PCV7 era (18.3%). In the PCV7 era there were significantly less non-vaccine type (NVT) co-colonization events than would be expected based on the NVT distribution observed in the pre-PCV7 era (p = 0.024). In conclusion, vaccination with PCV7 resulted in a lower co-colonization rate due to an asymmetric distribution between NVTs found in single and co-colonized samples. We propose that some NVTs prevalent in the PCV7 era are more competitive than others, hampering their co-existence in the same niche. This result may have important implications since a decrease in co-colonization events is expected to translate in decreased opportunities for horizontal gene transfer, hindering pneumococcal evolution events such as acquisition of antibiotic resistance determinants or capsular switch. This might represent a novel potential benefit of conjugate vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3257259  PMID: 22253924
5.  Multiple Colonization with S. pneumoniae before and after Introduction of the Seven-Valent Conjugated Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11638.
Simultaneous carriage of more than one strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae promotes horizontal gene transfer events and may lead to capsule switch and acquisition of antibiotic resistance. We studied the epidemiology of cocolonization with S. pneumoniae before and after introduction of the seven-valent conjugated pneumococcal vaccine (PCV7).
Nasopharyngeal swabs (n 1120) were collected from outpatients between 2004 and 2009 within an ongoing nationwide surveillance program. Cocolonization was detected directly from swabs by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. Serotypes were identified by agglutination, multiplex PCR and microarray.
Principal Findings
Rate of multiple colonization remained stable up to three years after PCV7 introduction. Cocolonization was associated with serotypes of low carriage prevalence in the prevaccine era. Pneumococcal colonization density was higher in cocolonized samples and cocolonizing strains were present in a balanced ratio (median 1.38). Other characteristics of cocolonization were a higher frequency at young age, but no association with recurrent acute otitis media, recent antibiotic exposure, day care usage and PCV7 vaccination status.
Pneumococcal cocolonization is dominated by serotypes of low carriage prevalence in the prevaccine era, which coexist in the nasopharynx. Emergence of such previously rare serotypes under vaccine selection pressure may promote cocolonization in the future.
PMCID: PMC2905437  PMID: 20661289
6.  Detection of Streptococcus pneumoniae Strain Cocolonization in the Nasopharynx ▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2009;47(6):1750-1756.
Colonization with more than one distinct strain of the same species, also termed cocolonization, is a prerequisite for horizontal gene transfer between pneumococcal strains that may lead to change of the capsular serotype. Capsule switch has become an important issue since the introduction of conjugated pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines. There is, however, a lack of techniques to detect multiple colonization by S. pneumoniae strains directly in nasopharyngeal samples. Two hundred eighty-seven nasopharyngeal swabs collected during the prevaccine era within a nationwide surveillance program were analyzed by a novel technique for the detection of cocolonization, based on PCR amplification of a noncoding region adjacent to the pneumolysin gene (plyNCR) and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. The numbers of strains and their relative abundance in cocolonized samples were determined by terminal RFLP. The pneumococcal carriage rate found by PCR was 51.6%, compared to 40.0% found by culture. Cocolonization was present in 9.5% (10/105) of samples, most (9/10) of which contained two strains in a ratio of between 1:1 and 17:1. Five of the 10 cocolonized samples showed combinations of vaccine types only (n = 2) or combinations of nonvaccine types only (n = 3). Carriers of multiple pneumococcal strains had received recent antibiotic treatment more often than those colonized with a single strain (33% versus 9%, P = 0.025). This new technique allows for the rapid and economical study of pneumococcal cocolonization in nasopharyngeal swabs. It will be valuable for the surveillance of S. pneumoniae epidemiology under vaccine selection pressure.
PMCID: PMC2691125  PMID: 19386843
7.  Microbial communities in the respiratory tract of patients with interstitial lung disease 
Thorax  2013;68(12):1150-1156.
Molecular methods based on phylogenetic differences in the 16S rRNA gene are able to characterise the microbiota of the respiratory tract in health and disease.
Our goals were (1) to characterise bacterial communities in lower and upper airways of patients with interstitial lung disease (ILD) and (2) to compare the results with the microbiota of patients with Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) and normal controls.
We examined the upper and lower respiratory tract of 18 patients with ILD of whom 5, 6, and 7 had idiopathic interstitial pneumonia (IIP), non-IIP and sarcoidosis, respectively. In addition, six immune-compromised patients with PCP and nine healthy subjects were included as controls. Exclusion criteria were recent bacterial/viral respiratory tract infection, HIV-positivity and subjects receiving antibiotic therapy. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and oropharyngeal swabs were simultaneously collected, and microbiota was characterised by ultra-deep 16S rRNA gene sequencing.
The microbiota in lower airways of the majority of patients (30; 90%) primarily consisted of Prevotellaceae, Streptococcaceae and Acidaminococcaceae. α and β diversity measurements revealed no significant differences in airway microbiota composition between the five different groups of patients. Comparison of bacterial populations in upper and lower respiratory tract showed significant topographical discontinuities for 7 (23%) individuals.
IIP, non-IIP and sarcoidosis are not associated with disordered airway microbiota and a pathogenic role of commensals in the disease process is therefore unlikely. Nevertheless, molecular analysis of the topographical microbiota continuity along the respiratory tract may provide additional information to assist management of individual patients.
PMCID: PMC3841796  PMID: 23945167
Sarcoidosis; Immunodeficiency; Bacterial Infection; Respiratory Infection

Results 1-7 (7)