Population-based analysis of ocular Chlamydia trachomatis in trachoma-endemic West African communities identifies genomic markers of disease severity

26 Feb 2018
Last AR, Pickering H, Roberts CH, Coll F, Phelan J, Burr SE, Cassama E, Nabicassa M, Seth-Smith HMB, Hadfield J, Cutcliffe LT, Clarke IN, Mabey DCW, Bailey RL, Clark TG, Thomson N, Holland MJ

BACKGROUND: Chlamydia trachomatis (Ct) is the most common infectious cause of blindness and bacterial sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Ct strain-specific differences in clinical trachoma suggest that genetic polymorphisms in Ct may contribute to the observed variability in severity of clinical disease.

METHODS: Using Ct whole genome sequences obtained directly from conjunctival swabs, we studied Ct genomic diversity and associations between Ct genetic polymorphisms with ocular localization and disease severity in a treatment-naïve trachoma-endemic population in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

RESULTS: All Ct sequences fall within the T2 ocular clade phylogenetically. This is consistent with the presence of the characteristic deletion in trpA resulting in a truncated non-functional protein and the ocular tyrosine repeat regions present in tarP associated with ocular tissue localization. We have identified 21 Ct non-synonymous single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with ocular localization, including SNPs within pmpD (odds ratio, OR = 4.07, p* = 0.001) and tarP (OR = 0.34, p* = 0.009). Eight synonymous SNPs associated with disease severity were found in yjfH (rlmB) (OR = 0.13, p* = 0.037), CTA0273 (OR = 0.12, p* = 0.027), trmD (OR = 0.12, p* = 0.032), CTA0744 (OR = 0.12, p* = 0.041), glgA (OR = 0.10, p* = 0.026), alaS (OR = 0.10, p* = 0.032), pmpE (OR = 0.08, p* = 0.001) and the intergenic region CTA0744-CTA0745 (OR = 0.13, p* = 0.043).

CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates the extent of genomic diversity within a naturally circulating population of ocular Ct and is the first to describe novel genomic associations with disease severity. These findings direct investigation of host-pathogen interactions that may be important in ocular Ct pathogenesis and disease transmission.