Identifying large-scale recombination and capsular switching events in Streptococcus agalactiae strains causing disease in adults in the UK between 2014 and 2015

Microb Genom. 2022 Mar;8(3):000783. doi: 10.1099/mgen.0.000783.


Cases of invasive group B streptococcal infection in the adult UK population have steadily increased over recent years, with the most common serotypes being V, III and Ia, but less is known of the genetic background of these strains. We have carried out in-depth analysis of the whole-genome sequences of 193 clinically important group B Streptococcus (GBS) isolates (184 were from invasive infection, 8 were from non-invasive infection and 1 had no information on isolation site) isolated from adults and submitted to the National Reference Laboratory at the UK Health Security Agency between January 2014 and December 2015. We have determined that capsular serotypes III (26.9%), Ia (26.4%) and V (15.0%) were most commonly identified, with slight differences in gender and age distribution. Most isolates (n=182) grouped to five clonal complexes (CCs), CC1, CC8/CC10, CC17, CC19 and CC23, with common associations between specific serotypes and virulence genes. Additionally, we have identified large recombination events mediating potential capsular switching events between sequence type (ST)1 serotype V and serotypes Ib (n=2 isolates), II (n=2 isolates) and VI (n=2 isolates); between ST19 serotype III and serotype V (n=5 isolates); and between CC17 serotype III and serotype IV (n=1 isolate). The high genetic diversity of disease-causing isolates and multiple recombination events reported in this study highlight the need for routine surveillance of the circulating disease-causing GBS strains. This information is crucial to better understand the global spread of GBS serotypes and genotypes, and will form the baseline information for any future GBS vaccine research in the UK and worldwide.

Keywords: group B Streptococcus; MLST; capsular serotype; epidemiology; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Streptococcal Infections* / epidemiology
  • Streptococcus agalactiae* / genetics
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology