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Genome Biol Evol. 2018 Aug 1;10(8):2102-2109. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evy152.

Loss of Genomic Diversity in a Neisseria meningitidis Clone Through a Colonization Bottleneck.

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Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland.
University of Basel, Switzerland.
Red de Estudios Moleculares Avanzados, Instituto de Ecología A. C., Xalapa, Veracruz, México.
Navrongo Health Research Centre, Ministry of Health, Navrongo, Ghana.
Research and Development Division, Ghana Health Service, Accra, Ghana.
Section of Clinical Tropical Medicine, University Hospital Heidelberg, Germany.
Wellcome Sanger Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Neisseria meningitidis is the leading cause of epidemic meningitis in the "meningitis belt" of Africa, where clonal waves of colonization and disease are observed. Point mutations and horizontal gene exchange lead to constant diversification of meningococcal populations during clonal spread. Maintaining a high genomic diversity may be an evolutionary strategy of meningococci that increases chances of fixing occasionally new highly successful "fit genotypes". We have performed a longitudinal study of meningococcal carriage and disease in northern Ghana by analyzing cerebrospinal fluid samples from all suspected meningitis cases and monitoring carriage of meningococci by twice yearly colonization surveys. In the framework of this study, we observed complete replacement of an A: sequence types (ST)-2859 clone by a W: ST-2881 clone. However, after a gap of 1 year, A: ST-2859 meningococci re-emerged both as colonizer and meningitis causing agent. Our whole genome sequencing analyses compared the A population isolated prior to the W colonization and disease wave with the re-emerging A meningococci. This analysis revealed expansion of one clone differing in only one nonsynonymous SNP from several isolates already present in the original A: ST-2859 population. The colonization bottleneck caused by the competing W meningococci thus resulted in a profound reduction in genomic diversity of the A meningococcal population.

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