Role of a single noncoding nucleotide in the evolution of an epidemic African clade of Salmonella
Disa L. Hammarlöf,, , , , , , , , , , , and
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium ST313 is a relatively newly emerged sequence type that is causing a devastating epidemic of bloodstream infections across sub-Saharan Africa. Analysis of hundreds of Salmonella genomes has revealed that ST313 is closely related to the ST19 group of S. Typhimurium that cause gastroenteritis across the world. The core genomes of ST313 and ST19 vary by only ∼1,000 SNPs. We hypothesized that the phenotypic differences that distinguish African Salmonella from ST19 are caused by certain SNPs that directly modulate the transcription of virulence genes. Here we identified 3,597 transcriptional start sites of the ST313 strain D23580, and searched for a gene-expression signature linked to pathogenesis of Salmonella. We identified a SNP in the promoter of the pgtE gene that caused high expression of the PgtE virulence factor in African S. Typhimurium, increased the degradation of the factor B component of human complement, contributed to serum resistance, and modulated virulence in the chicken infection model. We propose that high levels of PgtE expression by African S. Typhimurium ST313 promote bacterial survival and dissemination during human infection. Our finding of a functional role for an extragenic SNP shows that approaches used to deduce the evolution of virulence in bacterial pathogens should include a focus on noncoding regions of the genome.