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J Clin Microbiol. 2002 Dec;40(12):4457-65.

Microevolution of the direct repeat region of Mycobacterium tuberculosis: implications for interpretation of spoligotyping data.

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  • 1MRC Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology, Department of Medical Biochemistry, Faculty of Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa.


The direct repeat (DR) region has been determined to be an important chromosomal domain for studying the evolution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Despite this, very little is known about microevolutionary events associated with clonal expansion and how such events influence the interpretation of both restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and spoligotype data. This study examined the structure of the DR region in three independently evolving lineages of M. tuberculosis with a combination of DR-RFLP, spoligotyping, and partial DNA sequencing. The results show that the duplication of direct variable repeat (DVR) sequences and single-nucleotide polymorphisms is rare; conversely, the deletion of DVR sequences and IS6110-mediated mutation is observed frequently. Deletion of either single or contiguous DVR sequences was observed. The deletion of adjacent DVR sequences occurred in a dependent manner rather than as an accumulation of independent events. Insertion of IS6110 into either the direct repeat or spacer sequences influenced the spoligotype pattern, resulting in apparent deletion of DVR sequences. Homologous recombination between adjacent IS6110 elements led to extensive deletion in the DR region, again demonstrating a dependent evolutionary mechanism. Different isolates from the same strain family and isolates from different strain families were observed to converge to the same spoligotype pattern. In conclusion, the binary data of the spoligotype are unable to provide sufficient information to accurately establish genotypic relationships between certain clinical isolates of M. tuberculosis. This has important implications for molecular epidemiologic strain tracking and for the application of spoligotype data to phylogenetic analysis of M. tuberculosis isolates.

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