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Comparative Genomics and Full-Length TprK Profiling of Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum Reinfection

By Amin Addetia, Lauren C Tantalo, Michelle J Lin, Hong Xie, Meei-Li Huang, Christina M Marra, Alex Greninger

Posted 13 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/841395 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007921)

Developing a vaccine against Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis, remains a public health priority. Syphilis vaccine design efforts have been complicated by lack of an in vitro T. pallidum culture system, prolific antigenic variation in outer membrane protein TprK, and lack of functional annotation for nearly half of the genes. Understanding the genetic basis of T. pallidum reinfection can provide insights into variation among strains that escape cross-protective immunity. Here, we present comparative genomic sequencing and deep, full-length tprK profiling of two T. pallidum isolates from blood from the same patient that were collected six years apart. Notably, this patient was diagnosed with syphilis four times, with two of these episodes meeting the definition of neurosyphilis, during this interval. Outside of the highly variabletprK gene, we identified 14 coding changes in 13 genes. Nine of these genes putatively localized to the periplasmic or outer membrane spaces, consistent with a potential role in serological immunoevasion. Using a newly developed full-length tprK deep sequencing protocol, we profiled the diversity of this gene that far outpaces the rest of the genome. Intriguingly, we found that the reinfecting isolate demonstrated less diversity across each tprK variable region compared to the isolate from the first infection. Notably, the two isolates did not share any full-length TprK sequences. Our results are consistent with an immunodominant-evasion model in which the diversity of TprK explains the ability of T. pallidum to successfully reinfect individuals, even when they have been infected with the organism multiple times.

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