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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44730. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044730. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae genetic islands associated with chronic pulmonary infection.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.



Haemophilus influenzae (Hi) colonizes the human respiratory tract and is an important pathogen associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Bacterial factors that interact with the human host may be important in the pathogenesis of COPD. These factors, however, have not been well defined. The overall goal of this study was to identify bacterial genetic elements with increased prevalence among H. influenzae strains isolated from patients with COPD compared to those isolated from the pharynges of healthy individuals.


Four nontypeable H. influenzae (NTHi) strains, two isolated from the airways of patients with COPD and two from a healthy individual, were subjected to whole genome sequencing using 454 FLX Titanium technology. COPD strain-specific genetic islands greater than 500 bp in size were identified by in silico subtraction. Open reading frames residing within these islands include known Hi virulence genes such as lic2b, hgbA, iga, hmw1 and hmw2, as well as genes encoding urease and other enzymes involving metabolic pathways. The distributions of seven selected genetic islands were assessed among a panel of 421 NTHi strains of both disease and commensal origins using a Library-on-a-Slide high throughput dot blot DNA hybridization procedure. Four of the seven islands screened, containing genes that encode a methyltransferase, a dehydrogenase, a urease synthesis enzyme, and a set of unknown short ORFs, respectively, were more prevalent in COPD strains than in colonizing strains with prevalence ratios ranging from 1.21 to 2.85 (p ≤ 0.0002). Surprisingly, none of these sequences show increased prevalence among NTHi isolated from the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis.


Our data suggest that specific bacterial genes, many involved in metabolic functions, are associated with the ability of NTHi strains to survive in the lower airways of patients with COPD.

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