Successful transmission of tuberculosis depends on the interplay of human behavior, host immune responses, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis virulence factors. Previous studies have been focused on identifying host risk factors associated with increased transmission, but the contribution of specific genetic variations in mycobacterial strains themselves are still unknown.Objectives:
To identify mycobacterial genetic markers associated with increased transmissibility and to examine whether these markers lead to altered in vitro immune responses.Methods:
Using a comprehensive tuberculosis registry (n = 10,389) and strain collection in the Netherlands, we identified a set of 100 M. tuberculosis strains either least or most likely to be transmitted after controlling for host factors. We subjected these strains to whole-genome sequencing and evolutionary convergence analysis, and we repeated this analysis in an independent validation cohort. We then performed immunological experiments to measure in vitro cytokine production and neutrophil responses to a subset of the original strains with or without the identified mutations associated with increased transmissibility.Measurements and Main Results:
We identified the loci espE, PE-PGRS56, Rv0197, Rv2813-2814c, and Rv2815-2816c as targets of convergent evolution among transmissible strains. We validated four of these regions in an independent set of strains, and we demonstrated that mutations in these targets affected in vitro monocyte and T-cell cytokine production, neutrophil reactive oxygen species release, and apoptosis.Conclusions:
In this study, we identified genetic markers in convergent evolution of M. tuberculosis toward enhanced transmissibility in vivo that are associated with altered immune responses in vitro.