Background: Pilus components of Streptococcus pneumoniae encoded by rlrA were recently shown to elicit protection in an animal model of infection. Limited data are available on the prevalence of the rlrA operon in pneumococci; therefore, we investigated its distribution and its antigenic variation among disease-causing strains.
Methods: The prevalence of rlrA and its association with serotype and genotype were evaluated in a global panel of 424 pneumococci isolates (including the 26 drug-resistant clones described by the Pneumococcal Molecular Epidemiology Network).
Results: The rlrA islet was found in 130 isolates (30.6%) of the defined collection. Sequence alignment of 15 rlrA islets defined the presence of 3 clade types, with an overall homology of 88%-92%. The presence or absence of a pilus-encoding operon correlated with S. pneumoniae genotype (P < .001), as determined by multilocus sequence typing, and not with serotype. Further investigation identified a positive trend of rlrA occurrence among antimicrobial-resistant pneumococci.
Conclusions: On the basis of S. pneumoniae genotype, it is possible to predict the incidence of the rlrA pilus operon in a collection of pneumococcal isolates. This will facilitate the development of a protein vaccine.