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Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 2;9(1):11220. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-47551-4.

The population structure of Clostridium tetani deduced from its pan-genome.

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Bacterial Toxins, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
Sanofi-Pasteur, Marcy l'Etoile, France.
Biologie des Infections, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
CNR Bactéries anaérobies Botulisme, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
Hub Bioinformatique Biostatistique, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
Bacterial Toxins, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
Aarhus University, Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus, Denmark.


Clostridium tetani produces a potent neurotoxin, the tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT) that is responsible for the worldwide neurological disease tetanus, but which can be efficiently prevented by vaccination with tetanus toxoid. Until now only one type of TeNT has been characterized and very little information exists about the heterogeneity among C. tetani strains. We report here the genome sequences of 26 C. tetani strains, isolated between 1949 and 2017 and obtained from different locations. Genome analyses revealed that the C. tetani population is distributed in two phylogenetic clades, a major and a minor one, with no evidence for clade separation based on geographical origin or time of isolation. The chromosome of C. tetani is highly conserved; in contrast, the TeNT-encoding plasmid shows substantial heterogeneity. TeNT itself is highly conserved among all strains; the most relevant difference is an insertion of four amino acids in the C-terminal receptor-binding domain in four strains that might impact on receptor-binding properties. Other putative virulence factors, including tetanolysin and collagenase, are encoded in all genomes. This study highlights the population structure of C. tetani and suggests that tetanus-causing strains did not undergo extensive evolutionary diversification, as judged from the high conservation of its main virulence factors.

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