Genetic diversification of persistent Mycobacterium abscessus within cystic fibrosis patients
Mycobacterium (M.) abscessus infections in Cystic Fibrosis (CF) patients cause a deterioration of lung function. Treatment of these multidrug-resistant pathogens is associated with severe side-effects, while frequently unsuccessful. Insight on M. abscessus genomic evolvement during chronic lung infection would be beneficial for improving treatment strategies. A longitudinal study enrolling 42 CF patients was performed at a CF center in Berlin, Germany, to elaborate phylogeny and genomic diversification of in-patient M. abscessus. Eleven of the 42 CF patients were infected with M. abscessus. Five of these 11 patients were infected with global human-transmissible M. abscessus cluster strains. Phylogenetic analysis of 88 genomes from isolates of the 11 patients excluded occurrence of M. abscessus transmission among members of the study group. Genome sequencing and variant analysis of 30 isolates from 11 serial respiratory samples collected over 4.5 years from a chronically infected patient demonstrated accumulation of gene mutations. In total, 53 genes exhibiting non-synonymous variations were identified. Enrichment analysis emphasized genes involved in synthesis of glycopeptidolipids, genes from the embABC (arabinosyltransferase) operon, betA (glucose-methanol-choline oxidoreductase) and choD (cholesterol oxidase). Genetic diversity evolved in a variety of virulence- and resistance-associated genes. The strategy of M. abscessus populations in chronic lung infection is not clonal expansion of dominant variants, but to sustain simultaneously a wide range of genetic variants facilitating adaptation of the population to changing living conditions in the lung. Genomic diversification during chronic infection requires increased attention when new control strategies against M. abscessus infections are explored.