Trichomonas vaginalis is the causative agent of human trichomoniasis, the most common non-viral sexually transmitted infection world-wide. Despite its prevalence, little is known about the genetic diversity and population structure of this haploid parasite due to the lack of appropriate tools. The development of a panel of microsatellite makers and SNPs from mining the parasite's genome sequence has paved the way to a global analysis of the genetic structure of the pathogen and association with clinical phenotypes.
Here we utilize a panel of T. vaginalis-specific genetic markers to genotype 235 isolates from Mexico, Chile, India, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Italy, Africa and the United States, including 19 clinical isolates recently collected from 270 women attending New York City sexually transmitted disease clinics. Using population genetic analysis, we show that T. vaginalis is a genetically diverse parasite with a unique population structure consisting of two types present in equal proportions world-wide. Parasites belonging to the two types (type 1 and type 2) differ significantly in the rate at which they harbor the T. vaginalis virus, a dsRNA virus implicated in parasite pathogenesis, and in their sensitivity to the widely-used drug, metronidazole. We also uncover evidence of genetic exchange, indicating a sexual life-cycle of the parasite despite an absence of morphologically-distinct sexual stages.
Our study represents the first robust and comprehensive evaluation of global T. vaginalis genetic diversity and population structure. Our identification of a unique two-type structure, and the clinically relevant phenotypes associated with them, provides a new dimension for understanding T. vaginalis pathogenesis. In addition, our demonstration of the possibility of genetic exchange in the parasite has important implications for genetic research and control of the disease.
The human parasite Trichomonas vaginalis causes trichomoniasis, the world's most common non-viral sexually transmitted infection. Research on T. vaginalis genetic diversity has been limited by a lack of appropriate genotyping tools. To address this problem, we recently published a panel of T. vaginalis-specific genetic markers; here we use these markers to genotype isolates collected from ten regions around the globe. We detect high levels of genetic diversity, infer a two-type population structure, identify clinically relevant differences between the two types, and uncover evidence of genetic exchange in what was believed to be a clonal organism. Together, these results greatly improve our understanding of the population genetics of T. vaginalis and provide insights into the possibility of genetic exchange in the parasite, with implications for the epidemiology and control of the disease. By taking into account the existence of different types and their unique characteristics, we can improve understanding of the wide range of symptoms that patients manifest and better implement appropriate drug treatment. In addition, by recognizing the possibility of genetic exchange, we are more equipped to address the growing concern of drug resistance and the mechanisms by which it may spread within parasite populations.