Analysis of the population structure of Anaplasma phagocytophilum using multilocus sequence typing

Christian Huhn, Christina Winter, Timo Wolfsperger, Nicole Wüppenhorst, Katja Strašek Smrdel, Jasmin Skuballa, Miriam Pfäffle, Trevor Petney, Cornelia Silaghi, Viktor Dyachenko, Nikola Pantchev, Reinhard K. Straubinger, Daniel Schaarschmidt-Kiener, Martin Ganter, Matthew L. Aardema, Friederike D. Von Loewenich

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79 Scopus citations


Anaplasma phagocytophilum is a Gram-negative obligate intracellular bacterium that replicates in neutrophils. It is transmitted via tick-bite and causes febrile disease in humans and animals. Human granulocytic anaplasmosis is regarded as an emerging infectious disease in North America, Europe and Asia. However, although increasingly detected, it is still rare in Europe. Clinically apparent A. phagocytophilum infections in animals are mainly found in horses, dogs, cats, sheep and cattle. Evidence from cross-infection experiments that A. phagocytophilum isolates of distinct host origin are not uniformly infectious for heterologous hosts has led to several approaches of molecular strain characterization. Unfortunately, the results of these studies are not always easily comparable, because different gene regions and fragment lengths were investigated. Multilocus sequence typing is a widely accepted method for molecular characterization of bacteria. We here provide for the first time a universal typing method that is easily transferable between different laboratories. We validated our approach on an unprecedented large data set of almost 400 A. phagocytophilum strains from humans and animals mostly from Europe. The typability was 74% (284/383). One major clonal complex containing 177 strains was detected. However, 54% (49/90) of the sequence types were not part of a clonal complex indicating that the population structure of A. phagocytophilum is probably semiclonal. All strains from humans, dogs and horses from Europe belonged to the same clonal complex. As canine and equine granulocytic anaplasmosis occurs frequently in Europe, human granulocytic anaplasmosis is likely to be underdiagnosed in Europe. Further, wild boars and hedgehogs may serve as reservoir hosts of the disease in humans and domestic animals in Europe, because their strains belonged to the same clonal complex. In contrast, as they were only distantly related, roe deer, voles and shrews are unlikely to harbor A. phagocytophilum strains infectious for humans, domestic or farm animals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere93725
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2014


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