The influence of mutation, recombination, population history and selection on patterns of genetic diversity in Neisseria meningitidis

Jolley, K. A., D. J. Wilson, P. Kriz, G. McVean and M. C. J. Maiden (2005)
Molecular Biology and Evolution 22: 562-569. (pdf)

Patterns of genetic diversity within populations of human pathogens, shaped by the ecology of host-microbe interactions, contain important information about the epidemiological history of infectious disease. Exploiting this information, however, requires a systematic approach that distinguishes the genetic signal generated by epidemiological processes from the effects of other forces, such as recombination, mutation, and population history. Here, a variety of quantitative techniques were employed to investigate multilocus sequence information from isolate collections of Neisseria meningitidis, a major cause of meningitis and septicemia world wide. This allowed quantitative evaluation of alternative explanations for the observed population structure. A coalescent-based approach was employed to estimate the rate of mutation, the rate of recombination, and the size distribution of recombination fragments from samples from disease-associated and carried meningococci obtained in the Czech Republic in 1993 and a global collection of disease-associated isolates collected globally from 1937 to 1996. The parameter estimates were used to reject a model in which genetic structure arose by chance in small populations, and analysis of molecular variation showed that geographically restricted gene flow was unlikely to be the cause of the genetic structure. The genetic differentiation between disease and carriage isolate collections indicated that, whereas certain genotypes were overrepresented among the disease-isolate collections (the "hyperinvasive" lineages), disease-associated and carried meningococci exhibited remarkably little differentiation at the level of individual nucleotide polymorphisms. In combination, these results indicated the repeated action of natural selection on meningococcal populations, possibly arising from the coevolutionary dynamic of host-pathogen interactions.