Comparison of a real-time multiplex PCR and sequetyping assay for pneumococcal serotyping

Felix S. Dube, Suzan P. Van Mens, Lourens Robberts, Nicole Wolter, Paul Nicol, Joseph Mafofo, Samantha Africa, Heather J. Zar, Mark P. Nicol

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Background: Pneumococcal serotype identification is essential to monitor pneumococcal vaccine effectiveness and serotype replacement. Serotyping by conventional serological methods are costly, labour-intensive, and require significant technical expertise. We compared two different molecular methods to serotype pneumococci isolated from the nasopharynx of South African infants participating in a birth cohort study, the Drakenstein Child Health Study, in an area with high 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) coverage. Methods: A real-time multiplex PCR (rmPCR) assay detecting 21 different serotypes/-groups and a sequetyping assay, based on the sequence of the wzh gene within the pneumococcal capsular locus, were compared. Forty pneumococcal control isolates, with serotypes determined by the Quellung reaction, were tested. In addition, 135 pneumococcal isolates obtained from the nasopharynx of healthy children were tested by both serotyping assays and confirmed by Quellung testing. Discordant results were further investigated by whole genome sequencing of four isolates. Results: Of the 40 control isolates tested, 25 had a serotype covered by the rmPCR assay. These were all correctly serotyped/-grouped. Sequetyping PCR failed in 7/40 (18%) isolates. For the remaining isolates, sequetyping assigned the correct serotype/-group to 29/33 (88%) control isolates. Of the 132/135 (98%) nasopharyngeal pneumococcal isolates that could be typed, 69/132 (52%) and 112/132 (85%) were assigned the correct serotype/-group by rmPCR and sequetyping respectively. The serotypes of 63/132 (48%) isolates were not included in the rmPCR panel. All except three isolates (serotype 25A and 38) were theoretically amplified and differentiated into the correct serotype/-group with some strains giving ambigous results (serotype 13/20, 17F/33C, and 11A/D/1818F). Of the pneumococcal serotypes detected in this study, 69/91 (76%) were not included in the current PCV13. The most frequently identified serotypes were 11A, 13, 15B/15C, 16F and 10A. Conclusion: The rmPCR assay performed well for the 21 serotypes/-groups included in the assay. However, in our study setting, a large proportion of serotypes were not detected by rmPCR. The sequetyping assay performed well, but did misassign specific serotypes. It may be useful for regions where vaccine serotypes are less common, however confirmatory testing is advisable.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0137349
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


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