emm gene diversity, superantigen gene profiles and presence of SlaA among clinical isolates of group A, C and G streptococci from western Norway

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In order to investigate molecular characteristics of beta-hemolytic streptococcal isolates from western Norway, we analysed the entire emm gene sequences, obtained superantigen gene profiles and determined the prevalence of the gene encoding streptococcal phospholipase A2 (SlaA) of 165 non-invasive and 34 contemporary invasive group A, C and G streptococci (GAS, GCS and GGS). Among the 25 GAS and 26 GCS/GGS emm subtypes identified, only emm3.1 was significantly associated with invasive disease. M protein size variation within GAS and GCS/GGS emm types was frequently identified. Two non-invasive and one invasive GGS possessed emm genes that translated to truncated M proteins as a result of frameshift mutations. Results suggestive of recombinations between emm or emm- like gene segments were found in isolates of emm4 and stG485 types. One non-invasive GGS possessed speC, speG, speH, speI and smeZ, and another non-invasive GGS harboured SlaA. speA and SlaA were over-represented among invasive GAS, probably because they were associated with emm3. speGdys was identified in 83% of invasive and 63% of non-invasive GCS/GGS and correlated with certain emm subtypes. Our results indicate the invasive potential of isolates belonging to emm3, and show substantial emm gene diversity and possible lateral gene transfers in our streptococcal population.

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