High-resolution minisatellite-based typing as a portable approach to global analysis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis molecular epidemiology
The worldwide threat of tuberculosis to human health emphasizes the need to develop novel approaches to a global epidemiological surveillance. The current standard for Mycobacterium tuberculosis typing based on IS6110 restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) suffers from the difficulty of comparing data between independent laboratories. Here, we propose a high-resolution typing method based on variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs) of genetic elements named mycobacterial interspersed repetitive units (MIRUs) in 12 human minisatellite-like regions of the M. tuberculosis genome. MIRU-VNTR profiles of 72 different M. tuberculosis isolates were established by PCR analysis of all 12 loci. From 2 to 8 MIRU-VNTR alleles were identified in the 12 regions in these strains, which corresponds to a potential of over 16 million different combinations, yielding a resolution power close to that of IS6110-RFLP. All epidemiologically related isolates tested were perfectly clustered by MIRU-VNTR typing, indicating that the stability of these MIRU-VNTRs is adequate to track outbreak episodes. The correlation between genetic relationships inferred from MIRU-VNTR and IS6110-RFLP typing was highly significant. Compared with IS6110-RFLP, high-resolution MIRU-VNTR typing has the considerable advantages of being fast, appropriate for all M. tuberculosis isolates, including strains that have a few IS6110 copies, and permitting easy and rapid comparison of results from independent laboratories. This typing method opens the way to the construction of digital global databases for molecular epidemiology studies of M. tuberculosis.