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Multi-Locus Sequence Typing of Ehrlichia chaffeensis Reveals Extensive Genotypic Variation across the United States

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  • 1 Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia

ABSTRACT

Ehrlichia chaffeensis causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and its principal vector is the Amblyomma americanum tick. The most frequently identified cases of ehrlichiosis come from the southeastern and south central states of the United States. In this study, a molecular typing system was developed that allows for the genetic differentiation of E. chaffeensis isolates. This multi-locus typing system included sequencing and analyzing intergenic regions ECH0033–ECH0035 and ECH0217–ECH0218, plus, variable genes variable length PCR target, 28-kDa, 120-kDa, and hemE. We examined a total of 31 unique isolates from humans and white-tailed deer, and eight DNA samples extracted from infected A. americanum collected from multiple states. This is the largest evaluation of E. chaffeensis isolates and their genotypes. Our findings show that when sequences of all six loci were concatenated and compared, the 39 samples could be separated into 23 genotypes and further grouped into six phylogenetic clades. The data in this study show no clear pattern between the geographic alignment with the genetic differentiation between the strains. As a result, this poses a challenge to understanding the spread of E. chaffeensis in the United States. Interestingly, our findings indicate that multiple strains from distant geographic origins share the same mutations, which suggests that the strains are being moved from one site to another by their hosts or vectors. In addition, we are seeing a northward shift in the lone star tick distribution in the United States. Last, some data also suggest minimal genetic mutations have occurred over time among strains that are within geographical proximity.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Sandor E. Karpathy, Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30333. E-mail: evu2@cdc.gov

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the CDC.

Authors’ addresses: Maria L. Zambrano, Christopher D. Paddock, and Sandor E. Karpathy, Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, E-mails: daq6@cdc.gov, cdp9@cdc.gov, and evu2@cdc.gov.

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