Whole-Genome Sequencing for Characterization of Capsule Locus and Prediction of Serogroup of Invasive Meningococcal Isolates
Invasive meningococcal disease is mainly caused by Neisseria meningitidis serogroups A, B, C, X, W, and Y. The serogroup is typically determined by slide agglutination serogrouping (SASG) and real-time PCR (RT-PCR). We describe a whole-genome sequencing (WGS)-based method to characterize the capsule polysaccharide synthesis (cps) locus, classify N. meningitidis serogroups, and identify mechanisms for nongroupability using 453 isolates from a global strain collection. We identified novel genomic organizations within functional cps loci, consisting of insertion sequence (IS) elements in unique positions that did not disrupt the coding sequence. Genetic mutations (partial gene deletion, missing genes, IS insertion, internal stop, and phase-variable off) that led to nongroupability were identified. The results of WGS and SASG were in 91% to 100% agreement for all serogroups, while the results of WGS and RT-PCR showed 99% to 100% agreement. Among isolates determined to be nongroupable by WGS (31 of 453), the results of all three methods agreed 100% for those without a capsule polymerase gene. However, 61% (WGS versus SASG) and 36% (WGS versus RT-PCR) agreements were observed for the isolates, particularly those with phase variations or internal stops in cps loci, which warrant further characterization by additional tests. Our WGS-based serogrouping method provides comprehensive characterization of the N. meningitidis capsule, which is critical for meningococcal surveillance and outbreak investigations.