The novel 2024 WHO Neisseria gonorrhoeae reference strains for global quality assurance of laboratory investigations and superseded WHO N. gonorrhoeae reference strains-phenotypic, genetic and reference genome characterization

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2024 Jun 18:dkae176. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkae176. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: MDR and XDR Neisseria gonorrhoeae strains remain major public health concerns internationally, and quality-assured global gonococcal antimicrobial resistance (AMR) surveillance is imperative. The WHO global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme (GASP) and WHO Enhanced GASP (EGASP), including metadata and WGS, are expanding internationally. We present the phenotypic, genetic and reference genome characteristics of the 2024 WHO gonococcal reference strains (n = 15) for quality assurance worldwide. All superseded WHO gonococcal reference strains (n = 14) were identically characterized.

Material and methods: The 2024 WHO reference strains include 11 of the 2016 WHO reference strains, which were further characterized, and four novel strains. The superseded WHO reference strains include 11 WHO reference strains previously unpublished. All strains were characterized phenotypically and genomically (single-molecule PacBio or Oxford Nanopore and Illumina sequencing).

Results: The 2024 WHO reference strains represent all available susceptible and resistant phenotypes and genotypes for antimicrobials currently and previously used (n = 22), or considered for future use (n = 3) in gonorrhoea treatment. The novel WHO strains include internationally spreading ceftriaxone resistance, ceftriaxone resistance due to new penA mutations, ceftriaxone plus high-level azithromycin resistance and azithromycin resistance due to mosaic MtrRCDE efflux pump. AMR, serogroup, prolyliminopeptidase, genetic AMR determinants, plasmid types, molecular epidemiological types and reference genome characteristics are presented for all strains.

Conclusions: The 2024 WHO gonococcal reference strains are recommended for internal and external quality assurance in laboratory examinations, especially in the WHO GASP, EGASP and other GASPs, but also in phenotypic and molecular diagnostics, AMR prediction, pharmacodynamics, epidemiology, research and as complete reference genomes in WGS analysis.