Restricted gene flow among hospital subpopulations of Enterococcus faecium

mBio. 2012 Jul 17;3(4):e00151-12. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00151-12. Print 2012.


Enterococcus faecium has recently emerged as an important multiresistant nosocomial pathogen. Defining population structure in this species is required to provide insight into the existence, distribution, and dynamics of specific multiresistant or pathogenic lineages in particular environments, like the hospital. Here, we probe the population structure of E. faecium using Bayesian-based population genetic modeling implemented in Bayesian Analysis of Population Structure (BAPS) software. The analysis involved 1,720 isolates belonging to 519 sequence types (STs) (491 for E. faecium and 28 for Enterococcus faecalis). E. faecium isolates grouped into 13 BAPS (sub)groups, but the large majority (80%) of nosocomial isolates clustered in two subgroups (2-1 and 3-3). Phylogenetic and eBURST analysis of BAPS groups 2 and 3 confirmed the existence of three separate hospital lineages (17, 18, and 78), highlighting different evolutionary trajectories for BAPS 2-1 (lineage 78) and 3-3 (lineage 17 and lineage 18) isolates. Phylogenomic analysis of 29 E. faecium isolates showed agreement between BAPS assignment of STs and their relative positions in the phylogenetic tree. Odds ratio calculation confirmed the significant association between hospital isolates with BAPS 3-3 and lineages 17, 18, and 78. Admixture analysis showed a scarce number of recombination events between the different BAPS groups. For the E. faecium hospital population, we propose an evolutionary model in which strains with a high propensity to colonize and infect hospitalized patients arise through horizontal gene transfer. Once adapted to the distinct hospital niche, this subpopulation becomes isolated, and recombination with other populations declines.

Importance: Multiresistant Enterococcus faecium has become one of the most important nosocomial pathogens, causing increasing numbers of nosocomial infections worldwide. Here, we used Bayesian population genetic analysis to identify groups of related E. faecium strains and show a significant association of hospital and farm animal isolates to different genetic groups. We also found that hospital isolates could be divided into three lineages originating from sequence types (STs) 17, 18, and 78. We propose that, driven by the selective pressure in hospitals, the three hospital lineages have arisen through horizontal gene transfer, but once adapted to the distinct pathogenic niche, this population has become isolated and recombination with other populations declines. Elucidation of the population structure is a prerequisite for effective control of multiresistant E. faecium since it provides insight into the processes that have led to the progressive change of E. faecium from an innocent commensal to a multiresistant hospital-adapted pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cross Infection / microbiology*
  • Enterococcus faecalis / classification
  • Enterococcus faecalis / genetics
  • Enterococcus faecalis / isolation & purification
  • Enterococcus faecium / classification*
  • Enterococcus faecium / genetics*
  • Enterococcus faecium / isolation & purification
  • Gene Flow*
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / veterinary*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Swine
  • Swine Diseases / microbiology*