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Pediatric Brainstem Encephalitis Outbreak Investigation with Metagenomic Next-Generation Sequencing

By Kristoffer E Leon, Didac Casas-Alba, Akshaya Ramesh, Lillian M Khan, Cristian Launes, Hannah A. Sample, Kelsey C. Zorn, Ana Valero-Rello, Charles Langelier, Carmen Muñoz-Almagro, Joseph L. DeRisi, Michael R Wilson

Posted 12 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/414979

In 2016, Catalonia experienced a pediatric brainstem encephalitis outbreak caused by enterovirus A71 (EV-A71). Conventional testing identified EV in peripheral body sites, but EV was rarely identified in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). RNA was extracted from CSF (n=20), plasma (n=9), stool (n=15) and nasopharyngeal samples (n=16) from 10 children with brainstem encephalitis or encephalomyelitis and 10 contemporaneous pediatric controls with presumed viral meningitis or encephalitis. Unbiased complementary DNA libraries were sequenced, and microbial pathogens were identified using a custom bioinformatics pipeline. Full-length virus genomes were assembled for phylogenetic analyses. Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) was concordant with qRT-PCR for all samples positive by PCR (n=25). In virus-negative samples (n=35), mNGS detected virus in 28.6% (n=10), including 5 CSF samples. mNGS co-detected EV-A71 and another EV in 5 patients. Overall, mNGS increased the proportion of EV-positive samples from 42% (25/60) to 57% (34/60) (McNemar's test; p-value = 0.0077). For CSF, mNGS doubled the number of pathogen-positive samples (McNemar's test; p-value = 0.074). Using phylogenetic analysis, the outbreak EV-A71 clustered with a neuroinvasive German EV-A71 isolate. Brainstem encephalitis specific, non-synonymous EV-A71 single nucleotide variants were not identified. mNGS demonstrated 100% concordance with clinical qRT-PCR of EV-related brainstem encephalitis and significantly increased the detection of enteroviruses. Our findings increase the probability that neurologic complications observed were virus-induced rather than para-infectious. A comprehensive genomic analysis confirmed that the EV-A71 outbreak strain was closely related to a neuroinvasive German EV-A71 isolate. There were no clear-cut viral genomic differences that discriminated between patients with differing neurologic phenotypes.

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