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J Clin Microbiol. 2002 Apr;40(4):1277-82.

Evolution of the IS6110-based restriction fragment length polymorphism pattern during the transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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MRC Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology, Department of Medical Biochemistry, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, South Africa.


Interpretation of the molecular epidemiological data of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is dependent on the validity of the assumptions that have been made. It is assumed that the IS6110 banding pattern is sufficiently stable to define epidemiological events representing ongoing transmission. However, molecular epidemiological data also support the observation that the IS6110 banding pattern may change over time. Factors affecting this rate may include the nature and duration of disease in a host and the opportunity to experience different host environments during the transmission cycle. To estimate the rate of IS6110 change occurring during the process of transmission, M. tuberculosis isolates from epidemiologically linked patients were genotypically characterized by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. The identification of IS6110 banding pattern changes during ongoing transmission suggested that a rate could be estimated. IS6110 change was significantly associated with strains with >5 IS6110 elements (P = 0.013) and was not observed in low-copy-number isolates. The minimum rate of appearance of variant strains was calculated to be 0.14 variant cases per source-case per year. This data suggest that clustering of isolates based on identical RFLP patterns is expected to underestimate transmission in patients infected with high-copy-number isolates. A model based on the rate of appearance of both variant and invariant strains demonstrates that the genotypically defined population structure may change by 18.6% during the study period of approximately 6.5 years. The implications for the use of RFLP data for epidemiologic study are discussed.

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