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J Infect Dis. 2014 Jan 1;209(1):98-108. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jit439. Epub 2013 Aug 14.

Whole genome sequencing analysis of intrapatient microevolution in Mycobacterium tuberculosis: potential impact on the inference of tuberculosis transmission.

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Servicio Microbiología Clínica y Enfermedades Infecciosas, Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, Spain.



It has been accepted that the infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) can be more heterogeneous than considered. The emergence of clonal variants caused by microevolution events leading to population heterogeneity is a phenomenon largely unexplored. Until now, we could only superficially analyze this phenomenon by standard fingerprinting (RFLP and VNTR).


In this study we applied whole genome sequencing for a more in-depth analysis of the scale of microevolution both at the intrapatient and interpatient scenarios.


We found that the amount of variation accumulated within a patient can be as high as that observed between patients along a chain of transmission. Intrapatient diversity was found both at the extrapulmonary and respiratory sites, meaning that this variability can be transmitted and impact on the inference of transmission events. One of the events studied allowed us to track for a single strain the complete process of (i) interpatient microevolution, (ii) intrapatient respiratory variation, and (iii) isolation of different variants at different infected sites of this patient.


Our study adds new data to the understanding of variability in M. tuberculosis in a wide clinical scenario and alerts about the difficulties of establishing thresholds to differentiate relatedness in M. tuberculosis with epidemiological purposes.


interpatient; intrapatient; microevolution; transmission events; tuberculosis; whole genome sequencing

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