Infections caused by multiresistant Gram-positive bacteria represent a major health burden in the community as well as in hospitalized patients. Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium are well-known pathogens of hospitalized patients, frequently linked with resistance against multiple antibiotics, compromising effective therapy. Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes are important pathogens in the community and S. aureus has recently emerged as an important community-acquired pathogen. Population genetic studies reveal that recombination prevails as a driving force of genetic diversity in E. faecium, E. faecalis, S. pneumoniae and S. pyogenes, and thus, these species are weakly clonal. Although recombination has a relatively modest role driving the genetic variation of the core genome of S. aureus, the horizontal acquisition of resistance and virulence genes plays a key role in the emergence of new clinically relevant clones in this species. In this review, we discuss the population genetics of E. faecium, E. faecalis, S. pneumoniae, S. pyogenes and S. aureus. Knowledge of the population structure of these pathogens is not only highly relevant for (molecular) epidemiological research but also for identifying the genetic variation that underlies changes in clinical behaviour, to improve our understanding of the pathogenic behaviour of particular clones and to identify novel targets for vaccines or immunotherapy.
© 2011 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.