Genome sequence and comparative microarray analysis of serotype M18 group A Streptococcus strains associated with acute rheumatic fever outbreaks
Acute rheumatic fever (ARF), a sequelae of group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection, is the most common cause of preventable childhood heart disease worldwide. The molecular basis of ARF and the subsequent rheumatic heart disease are poorly understood. Serotype M18 GAS strains have been associated for decades with ARF outbreaks in the U.S. As a first step toward gaining new insight into ARF pathogenesis, we sequenced the genome of strain MGAS8232, a serotype M18 organism isolated from a patient with ARF. The genome is a circular chromosome of 1,895,017 bp, and it shares 1.7 Mb of closely related genetic material with strain SF370 (a sequenced serotype M1 strain). Strain MGAS8232 has 178 ORFs absent in SF370. Phages, phage-like elements, and insertion sequences are the major sources of variation between the genomes. The genomes of strain MGAS8232 and SF370 encode many of the same proven or putative virulence factors. Importantly, strain MGAS8232 has genes encoding many additional secreted proteins involved in human-GAS interactions, including streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin A (scarlet fever toxin) and two uncharacterized pyrogenic exotoxin homologues, all phage-associated. DNA microarray analysis of 36 serotype M18 strains from diverse localities showed that most regions of variation were phages or phage-like elements. Two epidemics of ARF occurring 12 years apart in Salt Lake City, UT, were caused by serotype M18 strains that were genetically identical, or nearly so. Our analysis provides a critical foundation for accelerated research into ARF pathogenesis and a molecular framework to study the plasticity of GAS genomes.