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PLoS One. 2018 Jul 30;13(7):e0200773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200773. eCollection 2018.

Molecular characterization of Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum in Switzerland and France with a new multilocus sequence typing scheme.

Author information

Department of Biology, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic.
Department of Fundamental Neuroscience, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Division of Clinical Epidemiology, University of Geneva Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland.
Center for Bioinformatics, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.
Medical Biology, Institute Alfred Fournier, Paris, France.
Hospices civils de Lyon, Lyon, France.
Department of Infectious Diseases, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Department of Dermatology, Triemlispital, Zurich, Switzerland.
IMD Institut für medizinische & molekulare Diagnostik AG, Zurich, Switzerland.
Unidad Mixta Infección y Salud Pública FISABIO/Universidad de Valencia, CIBER in Epidemiology and Public Health, Valencia, Spain.
Department of Anthropology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Repsol Technology Center, Madrid, Spain.
Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Zurich Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Faculty of Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Syphilis is an important public health problem and an increasing incidence has been noted in recent years. Characterization of strain diversity through molecular data plays a critical role in the epidemiological understanding of this re-emergence. We here propose a new high-resolution multilocus sequence typing (MLST) scheme for Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum (TPA). We analyzed 30 complete and draft TPA genomes obtained directly from clinical samples or from rabbit propagated strains to identify suitable typing loci and tested the new scheme on 120 clinical samples collected in Switzerland and France. Our analyses yielded three loci with high discriminatory power: TP0136, TP0548, and TP0705. Together with analysis of the 23S rRNA gene mutations for macrolide resistance, we propose these loci as MLST for TPA. Among clinical samples, 23 allelic profiles as well as a high percentage (80% samples) of macrolide resistance were revealed. The new MLST has higher discriminatory power compared to previous typing schemes, enabling distinction of TPA from other treponemal bacteria, distinction between the two main TPA clades (Nichols and SS14), and differentiation of strains within these clades.

Conflict of interest statement

Repsol Technology Center provided support in the form of salaries for an author HB. This does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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