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J Clin Microbiol. 2006 Mar;44(3):743-9.

A successful, diverse disease-associated lineage of nontypeable pneumococci that has lost the capsular biosynthesis locus.

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Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, St. Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, United Kingdom.


Streptococcus pneumoniae strains which fail to produce a polysaccharide capsule are commonly isolated from carriage and disease contexts. Here we use a multilocus approach to distinguish genuine nontypeable pneumococci from closely related nontypeable streptococcal isolates in a data set of 121 untypeable pneumococci from nasopharyngeal swabs and middle ear fluid of Finnish children and demonstrate that 70 of these belong to a pneumococcal lineage which has lost its capsular locus. Strains of this relatively old lineage include sequence types 344, 448, and 449. Comparison with the multilocus sequence typing database shows that strains of this lineage have spread intercontinentally and have been isolated from carriage, mucosal, and invasive disease. Furthermore we note a particular association of this nontypeable lineage with outbreaks of conjunctivitis. The diversification and geographic spread of this lineage suggest that loss of capsule is not inconsistent with long-term persistence and raise questions about the capsule's role in pneumococcal transmission.

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