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1.  A Low-Affinity Penicillin-Binding Protein 2x Variant Is Required for Heteroresistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae 
Heteroresistance to penicillin in Streptococcus pneumoniae is the ability of subpopulations to grow at a higher antibiotic concentration than expected from the MIC. This may render conventional resistance testing unreliable and lead to therapeutic failure. We investigated the role of the primary β-lactam resistance determinants, penicillin-binding protein 2b (PBP2b) and PBP2x, and the secondary resistance determinant PBP1a in heteroresistance to penicillin. Transformants containing PBP genes from the heteroresistant strain Spain23F2349 in the nonheteroresistant strain R6 background were tested for heteroresistance by population analysis profiling (PAP). We found that pbp2x, but not pbp2b or pbp1a alone, conferred heteroresistance to R6. However, a change of pbp2x expression was not observed, and therefore, expression does not correlate with an increased proportion of resistant subpopulations. In addition, the influence of the CiaRH system, mediating PBP-independent β-lactam resistance, was assessed by PAP on ciaR disruption mutants but revealed no heteroresistant phenotype. We also showed that the highly resistant subpopulations (HOM*) of transformants containing low-affinity pbp2x undergo an increase in resistance upon selection on penicillin plates that partially reverts after passaging on selection-free medium. Shotgun proteomic analysis showed an upregulation of phosphate ABC transporter subunit proteins encoded by pstS, phoU, pstB, and pstC in these highly resistant subpopulations. In conclusion, the presence of low-affinity pbp2x enables certain pneumococcal colonies to survive in the presence of β-lactams. Upregulation of phosphate ABC transporter genes may represent a reversible adaptation to antibiotic stress.
PMCID: PMC4068597  PMID: 24777105
2.  A point mutation in cpsE renders Streptococcus pneumoniae nonencapsulated and enhances its growth, adherence and competence 
BMC Microbiology  2014;14(1):210.
The polysaccharide capsule is a major virulence factor of the important human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. However, S. pneumoniae strains lacking capsule do occur.
Here, we report a nasopharyngeal isolate of Streptococcus pneumoniae composed of a mixture of two phenotypes; one encapsulated (serotype 18C) and the other nonencapsulated, determined by serotyping, electron microscopy and fluorescence isothiocyanate dextran exclusion assay.
By whole genome sequencing, we demonstrated that the phenotypes differ by a single nucleotide base pair in capsular gene cpsE (C to G change at gene position 1135) predicted to result in amino acid change from arginine to glycine at position 379, located in the cytoplasmic, enzymatically active, region of this transmembrane protein. This SNP is responsible for loss of capsule production as the phenotype is transferred with the capsule operon. The nonencapsulated variant is superior in growth in vitro and is also 117-fold more adherent to and more invasive into Detroit 562 human epithelial cells than the encapsulated variant.
Expression of six competence pathway genes and one competence-associated gene was 11 to 34-fold higher in the nonencapsulated variant than the encapsulated and transformation frequency was 3.7-fold greater.
We identified a new single point mutation in capsule gene cpsE of a clinical S. pneumoniae serotype 18C isolate sufficient to cause loss of capsule expression resulting in the co-existence of the encapsulated and nonencapsulated phenotype. The mutation caused phenotypic changes in growth, adherence to epithelial cells and transformability. Mutation in capsule gene cpsE may be a way for S. pneumoniae to lose its capsule and increase its colonization potential.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12866-014-0210-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4243769  PMID: 25163487
Streptococcus pneumoniae; cpsE; Capsule; Nonencapsulated; SNP
3.  Characterisation and clinical features of Enterobacter cloacae bloodstream infections occurring at a tertiary care university hospital in Switzerland: is cefepime adequate therapy? 
Despite many years of clinical experience with cefepime, data regarding the outcome of patients suffering from bloodstream infections (BSIs) due to Enterobacter cloacae (Ecl) are scarce. To address the gap in our knowledge, 57 Ecl responsible for 51 BSIs were analysed implementing phenotypic and molecular methods (microarrays, PCRs for bla and other genes, rep-PCR to analyse clonality). Only two E. cloacae (3.5%) were ESBL-producers, whereas 34 (59.6%) and 18 (31.6%) possessed inducible (Ind-Ecl) or derepressed (Der-Ecl) AmpC enzymes, respectively. All isolates were susceptible to imipenem, meropenem, gentamicin and ciprofloxacin. Der-Ecl were highly resistant to ceftazidime and piperacillin/tazobactam (both MIC90 ≥ 256 µg/mL), whereas cefepime retained its activity (MIC90 of 3 µg/mL). rep-PCR indicated that the isolates were sporadic, but Ecl collected from the same patients were indistinguishable. In particular, three BSIs initially due to Ind-Ecl evolved (under ceftriaxone or piperacillin/tazobactam treatment) into Der-Ecl because of mutations or a deletion in ampD or insertion of IS4321 in the promoter. These last two mechanisms have never been described in Ecl. Mortality was higher for BSIs due to Der-Ecl than Ind-Ecl (3.8% vs. 29.4%; P = 0.028) and was associated with the Charlson co-morbidity index (P = 0.046). Using the following directed treatments, patients with BSI showed a favourable treatment outcome: cefepime (16/18; 88.9%); carbapenems (12/13; 92.3%); ceftriaxone (4/7; 57.1%); piperacillin/tazobactam (5/7; 71.4%); and ciprofloxacin (6/6; 100%). Cefepime represents a safe therapeutic option and an alternative to carbapenems to treat BSIs due to Ecl when the prevalence of ESBL-producers is low.
PMCID: PMC4018813  PMID: 23313399
Cefepime; Bacteraemia; Outcome; Enterobacter; AmpC; AmpD
4.  Streptococcus pneumoniae detects and responds to foreign bacterial peptide fragments in its environment 
Open Biology  2014;4(4):130224.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is an important cause of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia but usually colonizes the human nasopharynx harmlessly. As this niche is simultaneously populated by other bacterial species, we looked for a role and pathway of communication between pneumococci and other species. This paper shows that two proteins of non-encapsulated S. pneumoniae, AliB-like ORF 1 and ORF 2, bind specifically to peptides matching other species resulting in changes in the pneumococci. AliB-like ORF 1 binds specifically peptide SETTFGRDFN, matching 50S ribosomal subunit protein L4 of Enterobacteriaceae, and facilitates upregulation of competence for genetic transformation. AliB-like ORF 2 binds specifically peptides containing sequence FPPQS, matching proteins of Prevotella species common in healthy human nasopharyngeal microbiota. We found that AliB-like ORF 2 mediates the early phase of nasopharyngeal colonization in vivo. The ability of S. pneumoniae to bind and respond to peptides of other bacterial species occupying the same host niche may play a key role in adaptation to its environment and in interspecies communication. These findings reveal a completely new concept of pneumococcal interspecies communication which may have implications for communication between other bacterial species and for future interventional therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4043112  PMID: 24718598
Streptococcus pneumoniae, bacteria; peptide; interspecies communication; non-encapsulated
5.  The Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Capsule and Pneumolysin Differentially Affect CXCL8 and IL-6 Release from Cells of the Upper and Lower Respiratory Tract 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92355.
The polysaccharide capsule and pneumolysin toxin are major virulence factors of the human bacterial pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. Colonization of the nasopharynx is asymptomatic but invasion of the lungs can result in invasive pneumonia. Here we show that the capsule suppresses the release of the pro-inflammatory cytokines CXCL8 (IL-8) and IL-6 from the human pharyngeal epithelial cell line Detroit 562. Release of both cytokines was much less from human bronchial epithelial cells (iHBEC) but levels were also affected by capsule. Pneumolysin stimulates CXCL8 release from both cell lines. Suppression of CXCL8 homologue (CXCL2/MIP-2) release by the capsule was also observed in vivo during intranasal colonization of mice but was only discernable in the absence of pneumolysin.
When pneumococci were administered intranasally to mice in a model of long term, stable nasopharyngeal carriage, encapsulated S. pneumoniae remained in the nasopharynx whereas the nonencapsulated pneumococci disseminated into the lungs.
Pneumococcal capsule plays a role not only in protection from phagocytosis but also in modulation of the pro-inflammatory immune response in the respiratory tract.
PMCID: PMC3963895  PMID: 24664110
6.  Heteroresistance to Fosfomycin Is Predominant in Streptococcus pneumoniae and Depends on the murA1 Gene 
Fosfomycin targets the first step of peptidoglycan biosynthesis in Streptococcus pneumoniae catalyzed by UDP-N-acetylglucosamine enolpyruvyltransferase (MurA1). We investigated whether heteroresistance to fosfomycin occurs in S. pneumoniae. We found that of 11 strains tested, all but 1 (Hungary19A) displayed heteroresistance and that deletion of murA1 abolished heteroresistance. Hungary19A differs from the other strains by a single amino acid substitution in MurA1 (Ala364Thr). To test whether this substitution is responsible for the lack of heteroresistance, it was introduced into strain D39. The heteroresistance phenotype of strain D39 was not changed. Furthermore, no relevant structural differences between the MurA1 crystal structures of heteroresistant strain D39 and nonheteroresistant strain Hungary19A were found. Our results reveal that heteroresistance to fosfomycin is the predominant phenotype of S. pneumoniae and that MurA1 is required for heteroresistance to fosfomycin but is not the only factor involved. The findings provide a caveat for any future use of fosfomycin in the treatment of pneumococcal infections.
PMCID: PMC3716182  PMID: 23571543
7.  High proportion of healthcare-associated urinary tract infection in the absence of prior exposure to urinary catheter: a cross-sectional study 
Exposure to urinary catheters is considered the most important risk factor for healthcare-associated urinary tract infection (UTI) and is associated with significant morbidity and substantial extra-costs. In this study, we assessed the impact of urinary catheterisation (UC) on symptomatic healthcare-associated UTI among hospitalized patients.
A nationwide period prevalence survey of healthcare-associated infections was conducted during 1 May to 30 June 2004 in 49 Swiss hospitals and included 8169 adult patients (4313 female; 52.8%) hospitalised in medical, surgical, intermediate, and intensive care wards. Additional data were collected on exposure to UC to investigate factors associated with UTI among hospitalised adult patients exposed and non-exposed to UC.
1917 (23.5%) patients were exposed to UC within the week prior to survey day; 126 (126/8169; 1.5%) developed UTI. Exposure to UC preceded UTI only in 73 cases (58%). By multivariate logistic regression analysis, UTI was independently associated with exposure to UC (odds ratio [OR], 3.9 [95% CI, 2.6-5.9]), female gender (OR, 2.1 [95% CI, 1.4-3.1]), an American Society of Anesthesiologists’ score > 2 points (OR, 3.2 [95% CI, 1.1-9.4], and prolonged hospital stay >20 days (OR, 1.9 [95% CI, 1.4-3.2]. Further analysis showed that the only significant factor for UTI with exposure to UC use was prolonged hospital stay >40 days (OR, 2.9 [95% CI, 1.3-6.1], while female gender only showed a tendency (OR, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.0-2.7]. In the absence of exposure to UC, the only significant risk factor for UTI was female gender (OR, 3.3 [95% CI, 1.7-6.5]).
Exposure to UC was the most important risk factor for symptomatic healthcare-associated UTI, but only concerned about half of all patients with UTI. Further investigation is warranted to improve overall infection control strategies for UTI.
PMCID: PMC3598194  PMID: 23391300
Prevalence; Urinary catheter; Acute care; Urinary tract infection; Nosocomial; Risk factors
8.  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
9.  Determinants of Quinolone versus Trimethoprim-Sulfamethoxazole Use for Outpatient Urinary Tract Infection 
Quinolones are increasingly favored over trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX) for empirical treatment of uncomplicated urinary tract infection (UTI). This is associated with increasing resistance toward this broad-spectrum group of antibiotics. Our objective is to describe the prescribing patterns and identify determinants of the choice between TMP-SMX and quinolones for outpatient UTI treatment in Switzerland. An ongoing national Sentinel surveillance system was used to study 11,799 antibiotic prescriptions for UTI in adult outpatients and associated physician and patient factors between 2006 and 2008, to compare the prescription of quinolones versus that of TMP-SMX for treatment of UTI. Most UTI episodes were diagnosed as cystitis (90%). TMP-SMX was prescribed for one-fifth (22%) of UTIs. Independent predictors for prescribing quinolones were pyelonephritis and physicians with low thresholds for prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections (“high prescribers”), whereas female patients were more likely to receive TMP-SMX. High-prescribing physicians also more often cared for patients who themselves favor antibiotic treatment (P < 0.001). Quinolones are commonly prescribed to outpatients with UTI. Nonclinical factors influence the choice of quinolones versus TMP-SMX, which may provide opportunities for interventions to improve prescribing patterns and control quinolone resistance.
PMCID: PMC3294920  PMID: 22232276
10.  Transmission Dynamics of Extended-Spectrum β-lactamase–Producing Enterobacteriaceae in the Tertiary Care Hospital and the Household Setting 
Transmission of extended-spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL)–producing Enterobacteriaceae in households outweighs nosocomial dissemination in the non-outbreak setting. Importation of ESBL producers into the hospitals is as frequent as transmission during hospital stay. ESBL–Klebsiella pneumoniae might be more efficiently transmitted within the hospital than ESBL–Escherichia coli.
Background. Studies about transmission rates of extended-spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL)–producing Enterobacteriaceae in hospitals and households are scarce.
Methods. Eighty-two index patients with new carriage of ESBL-producing Escherichia coli (ESBL-Ec; n = 72) or ESBL-producing Klebsiella pneumoniae (ESBL-Kp; n = 10) and their hospital (n = 112) and household (n = 96) contacts were studied prospectively from May 2008 through September 2010. Isolates were phenotypically and molecularly characterized (sequencing of bla genes, repetitive extragenic palindromic polymerase chain reaction, pulse-field gel electrophoresis, and multilocus sequence typing). Transmission was defined as carriage of a clonally-related ESBL producer with identical blaESBL gene(s) in the index patient and his or her contact(s).
Results. CTX-M-15 was the most prevalent ESBL in ESBL-Ec (58%) and ESBL-Kp (70%) in the index patients. Twenty (28%) ESBL-Ec isolates were of the hyperepidemic clone ST131. In the hospital, transmission rates were 4.5% (ESBL-Ec) and 8.3% (ESBL-Kp) and the incidences of transmissions were 5.6 (Ec) and 13.9 (Kp) per 1000 exposure days, respectively. Incidence of ESBL-Kp hospital transmission was significantly higher than that of ESBL-Ec (P < .0001), despite implementation of infection control measures in 75% of ESBL-Kp index patients but only 22% of ESBL-Ec index patients. Detection of ESBL producers not linked to an index patient was as frequent (ESBL-Ec, 5.7%; ESBL-Kp, 16.7%) as nosocomial transmission events. In households, transmission rates were 23% for ESBL-Ec and 25% for ESBL-Kp.
Conclusions. Household outweighs nosocomial transmission of ESBL producers. The effect of hospital infection control measures may differ between different species and clones of ESBL producers.
PMCID: PMC3436924  PMID: 22718774
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  Twelve years' detection of respiratory viruses by immunofluorescence in hospitalised children: impact of the introduction of a new respiratory picornavirus assay 
Direct immunofluorescence assays (DFA) are a rapid and inexpensive method for the detection of respiratory viruses and may therefore be used for surveillance. Few epidemiological studies have been published based solely on DFA and none included respiratory picornaviruses and human metapneumovirus (hMPV). We wished to evaluate the use of DFA for epidemiological studies with a long-term observation of respiratory viruses that includes both respiratory picornaviruses and hMPV.
Since 1998 all children hospitalized with respiratory illness at the University Hospital Bern have been screened with DFA for common respiratory viruses including adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza A and B, and parainfluenza virus 1-3. In 2006 assays for respiratory picornaviruses and hMPV were added. Here we describe the epidemiological pattern for these respiratory viruses detected by DFA in 10'629 nasopharyngeal aspirates collected from 8'285 patients during a 12-year period (1998-2010).
Addition of assays for respiratory picornaviruses and hMPV raised the proportion of positive DFA results from 35% to 58% (p < 0.0001). Respiratory picornaviruses were the most common viruses detected among patients ≥1 year old. The seasonal patterns and age distribution for the studied viruses agreed well with those reported in the literature. In 2010, an hMPV epidemic of unexpected size was observed.
DFA is a valid, rapid, flexible and inexpensive method. The addition of assays for respiratory picornaviruses and hMPV broadens its range of viral detection. DFA is, even in the "PCR era", a particularly adapted method for the long term surveillance of respiratory viruses in a pediatric population.
PMCID: PMC3044667  PMID: 21299840
15.  High-Throughput Procedure for Tick Surveys of Tick-Borne Encephalitis Virus and Its Application in a National Surveillance Study in Switzerland▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(13):4241-4249.
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), a viral infection of the central nervous system, is endemic in many Eurasian countries. In Switzerland, TBE risk areas have been characterized by geographic mapping of clinical cases. Since mass vaccination should significantly decrease the number of TBE cases, alternative methods for exposure risk assessment are required. We established a new PCR-based test for the detection of TBE virus (TBEV) in ticks. The protocol involves an automated, high-throughput nucleic acid extraction method (QIAsymphony SP system) and a one-step duplex real-time reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) assay for the detection of European subtype TBEV, including an internal process control. High usability, reproducibility, and equivalent performance for virus concentrations down to 5 × 103 viral genome equivalents/μl favor the automated protocol compared to the modified guanidinium thiocyanate-phenol-chloroform extraction procedure. The real-time RT-PCR allows fast, sensitive (limit of detection, 10 RNA copies/μl), and specific (no false-positive test results for other TBEV subtypes, other flaviviruses, or other tick-transmitted pathogens) detection of European subtype TBEV. The new detection method was applied in a national surveillance study, in which 62,343 Ixodes ricinus ticks were screened for the presence of TBE virus. A total of 38 foci of endemicity could be identified, with a mean virus prevalence of 0.46%. The foci do not fully agree with those defined by disease mapping. Therefore, the proposed molecular test procedure constitutes a prerequisite for an appropriate TBE surveillance. Our data are a unique complement of human TBE disease case mapping in Switzerland.
PMCID: PMC2897458  PMID: 20453126
16.  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
17.  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
18.  New Molecular Detection Tools Adapted to Emerging Rhinoviruses and Enteroviruses▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2009;47(6):1742-1749.
Human rhinoviruses (HRV), and to a lesser extent human enteroviruses (HEV), are important respiratory pathogens. Like other RNA viruses, these picornaviruses have an intrinsic propensity to variability. This results in a large number of different serotypes as well as the incessant discovery of new genotypes. This large and growing diversity not only complicates the design of real-time PCR assays but also renders immunofluorescence unfeasible for broad HRV and HEV detection or quantification in cells. In this study, we used the 5′ untranslated region, the most conserved part of the genome, as a target for the development of both a real-time PCR assay (Panenterhino/Ge/08) and a peptide nucleic acid-based hybridization oligoprobe (Panenterhino/Ge/08 PNA probe) designed to detect all HRV and HEV species members according to publicly available sequences. The reverse transcription-PCR assay has been validated, using not only plasmid and viral stocks but also quantified RNA transcripts and around 1,000 clinical specimens. These new generic detection PCR assays overcame the variability of circulating strains and lowered the risk of missing emerging and divergent HRV and HEV. An additional real-time PCR assay (Entero/Ge/08) was also designed specifically to provide sensitive and targeted detection of HEV in cerebrospinal fluid. In addition to the generic probe, we developed specific probes for the detection of HRV-A and HRV-B in cells. This investigation provides a comprehensive toolbox for accurate molecular identification of the different HEV and HRV circulating in humans.
PMCID: PMC2691104  PMID: 19339471
19.  New Respiratory Enterovirus and Recombinant Rhinoviruses among Circulating Picornaviruses  
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2009;15(5):719-726.
Increased genomic diversity of these viruses is demonstrated.
Rhinoviruses and enteroviruses are leading causes of respiratory infections. To evaluate genotypic diversity and identify forces shaping picornavirus evolution, we screened persons with respiratory illnesses by using rhinovirus-specific or generic real-time PCR assays. We then sequenced the 5′ untranslated region, capsid protein VP1, and protease precursor 3CD regions of virus-positive samples. Subsequent phylogenetic analysis identified the large genotypic diversity of rhinoviruses circulating in humans. We identified and completed the genome sequence of a new enterovirus genotype associated with respiratory symptoms and acute otitis media, confirming the close relationship between rhinoviruses and enteroviruses and the need to detect both viruses in respiratory specimens. Finally, we identified recombinants among circulating rhinoviruses and mapped their recombination sites, thereby demonstrating that rhinoviruses can recombine in their natural host. This study clarifies the diversity and explains the reasons for evolution of these viruses.
PMCID: PMC2687021  PMID: 19402957
Respiratory infections; molecular epidemiology; picornavirus; rhinovirus; enterovirus; recombination; capsid protein; nonstructural protein; genotype; research
20.  Rapid Screening for Carriage of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus by PCR and Associated Costs▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2008;46(7):2151-2154.
PCR tests for the rapid and valid detection of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are now available. We evaluated the costs associated with contact screening for MRSA carriage in a tertiary-care hospital with low MRSA endemicity. Between 1 October 2005 and 28 February 2006, 232 patients were screened during 258 screening episodes (644 samples) for MRSA carriage by GenoType MRSA Direct (Hain Lifescience GmbH, Nehren, Germany). Conventional culture confirmed all PCR results. According to in-house algorithms, 34 of 258 screening episodes (14.7%) would have qualified for preemptive contact isolation, but such isolation was not done upon negative PCR results. MRSA carriage was detected in 4 (1.5%) of 258 screening episodes (i.e., in four patients), of which none qualified for preemptive contact isolation. The use of PCR for all 258 screening episodes added costs (in Swiss francs [CHF]) of CHF 104,328.00 and saved CHF 38,528.00 (for preemptive isolation). The restriction of PCR screening to the 34 episodes that qualified for preemptive contact isolation and screening all others by culture would have lowered costs for PCR to only CHF 11,988.00, a savings of CHF 38,528.00. Therefore, PCR tests are valuable for the rapid detection of MRSA carriers, but high costs require the careful evaluation of their use. In patient populations with low MRSA endemicity, the broad use of PCR probably is not cost-effective.
PMCID: PMC2446891  PMID: 18448693
21.  Clinical Characteristics Associated with Isolation of Small-Colony Variants of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa from Respiratory Secretions of Patients with Cystic Fibrosis▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2008;46(5):1832-1834.
During a 3-month period, small-colony variant phenotypes of both Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were isolated from respiratory secretions of 8.2% and 9.2%, respectively, of 98 patients with cystic fibrosis, particularly those with advanced pulmonary disease and prolonged antibiotic exposure.
PMCID: PMC2395072  PMID: 18322058
22.  Influence of the spxB Gene on Competence in Streptococcus pneumoniae▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;190(4):1184-1189.
In Streptococcus pneumoniae expression of pyruvate oxidase (SpxB) peaks during the early growth phase, coincident with the time of natural competence. This study investigated whether SpxB influences parameters of competence, such as spontaneous transformation frequency, expression of competence genes, and DNA release. Knockout of the spxB gene in strain D39 abolished spontaneous transformation (compared to a frequency of 6.3 × 10−6 in the parent strain [P < 0.01]). It also reduced expression levels of comC and recA as well as DNA release from bacterial cells significantly during the early growth phase, coincident with the time of spontaneous competence in the parent strain. In the spxB mutant, supplementation with competence-stimulating peptide 1 (CSP-1) restored transformation (rate, 1.8 × 10−2). This speaks against the role of SpxB as a necessary source of energy for competence. Neither supplementation with CSP-1 nor supplementation with the SpxB products H2O2 and acetate altered DNA release. Supplementation of the parent strain with catalase did not reduce DNA release significantly. In conclusion, the pneumococcal spxB gene influences competence; however, the mechanism remains elusive.
PMCID: PMC2238216  PMID: 18065543
23.  Use of the Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer for Rapid and Reproducible Molecular Typing of Streptococcus pneumoniae▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2007;45(3):803-809.
Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis is an economic and fast technique for molecular typing but has the drawback of difficulties in accurately sizing DNA fragments and comparing banding patterns on agarose gels. We aimed to improve RFLP for typing of the important human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae and to compare the results with the commonly used typing techniques of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and multilocus sequence typing. We designed primers to amplify a noncoding region adjacent to the pneumolysin gene. The PCR product was digested separately with six restriction endonucleases, and the DNA fragments were analyzed using an Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer for accurate sizing. The combined RFLP results for all enzymes allowed us to assign each of the 47 clinical isolates of S. pneumoniae tested to one of 33 RFLP types. RFLP analyzed using the bioanalyzer allowed discrimination between strains similar to that obtained by the more commonly used techniques of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, which discriminated between 34 types, and multilocus sequence typing, which discriminated between 35 types, but more quickly and with less expense. RFLP of a noncoding region using the Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer could be a useful addition to the molecular typing techniques in current use for S. pneumoniae, especially as a first screen of a local population.
PMCID: PMC1829109  PMID: 17202282
24.  Distribution and Invasiveness of Streptococcus pneumoniae Serotypes in Switzerland, a Country with Low Antibiotic Selection Pressure, from 2001 to 2004 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2006;44(6):2032-2038.
To describe the serotype-specific epidemiology of colonizing and invasive Streptococcus pneumoniae isolates, which is important for vaccination strategies, we analyzed a total of 2,388 invasive and 1,540 colonizing S. pneumoniae isolates collected between January 2001 and December 2004 within two nationwide surveillance programs. We found that the relative rank orders of the most frequent serotypes (serotypes 1, 3, 4, 6B, 7F, 14, 19F, and 23F) differed among invasive and colonizing isolates. Serotypes 1, 4, 5, 7F, 8, 9V, and 14 had increased invasive potential, and serotypes/serogroups 3, 6A, 7, 10, 11, 19F, and 23F were associated with colonization. The proportion of pediatric serotypes was higher among children <5 years old (48.5%) and persons >64 years old (34.1%) than among other age groups (29.1%); it was also higher in West Switzerland (40.2%) than in other geographic regions (34.7%). Likewise, serotype-specific proportions of penicillin-resistant isolates for types 6B, 9V, 14, and 19F were significantly higher in West Switzerland. The relative frequency of pediatric serotypes corresponded with antibiotic consumption patterns. We conclude that the epidemiology of invasive and colonizing S. pneumoniae isolates is influenced by the serotype-specific potential for invasiveness, and therefore, surveillance programs should include colonizing and invasive S. pneumoniae isolates. Antibiotic selection pressure determines the serotype distribution in different age groups and geographic regions and therefore the expected direct and indirect effects of the 7-valent conjugate vaccine.
PMCID: PMC1489397  PMID: 16757594
25.  Characterization of Genetic and Phenotypic Diversity of Invasive Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(9):5853-5863.
The ability of unencapsulated (nontypeable) Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) to cause systemic disease in healthy children has been recognized only in the past decade. To determine the extent of similarity among invasive nontypeable isolates, we compared strain R2866 with 16 additional NTHi isolates from blood and spinal fluid, 17 nasopharyngeal or throat isolates from healthy children, and 19 isolates from middle ear aspirates. The strains were evaluated for the presence of several genetic loci that affect bacterial surface structures and for biochemical reactions that are known to differ among H. influenzae strains. Eight strains, including four blood isolates, shared several properties with R2866: they were biotype V (indole and ornithine decarboxylase positive, urease negative), contained sequence from the adhesin gene hia, and lacked a genetic island flanked by the infA and ksgA genes. Multilocus sequence typing showed that most biotype V isolates belonged to the same phylogenetic cluster as strain R2866. When present, the infA-ksgA island contains lipopolysaccharide biosynthetic genes, either lic2B and lic2C or homologs of the losA and losB genes described for Haemophilus ducreyi. The island was found in most nasopharyngeal and otitis isolates but was absent from 40% of invasive isolates. Overall, the 33 hmw-negative isolates were much more likely than hmw-containing isolates to have tryptophanase, ornithine decarboxylase, or lysine decarboxylase activity or to contain the hif genes. We conclude (i) that invasive isolates are genetically and phenotypically diverse and (ii) that certain genetic loci of NTHi are frequently found in association among NTHi strains.
PMCID: PMC1231076  PMID: 16113304

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