Genotyping of Mycobacterium leprae strains from a region of high endemic leprosy prevalence in India.
Leprosy is still a major health problem in India which has the highest number of cases. Multiple locus variable number of tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) have been proposed as tools of strain typing for tracking the transmission of leprosy. However, empirical data for a defined population from scale and duration were lacking for studying the transmission chain of leprosy. Seventy slit skin scrapings were collected from Purulia (West Bengal), Miraj (Maharashtra), Shahdara (Delhi), and Naini (UP) hospitals of The Leprosy Mission (TLM). SNP subtyping and MLVA on 10 VNTR loci were applied for the strain typing of Mycobacterium leprae. Along with the strain typing conventional epidemiological investigation was also performed to trace the transmission chain. In addition, phylogenetic analysis was done on variable number of tandem repeat (VNTR) data sets using sequence type analysis and recombinational tests (START) software. START software performs analyses to aid in the investigation of bacterial population structure using multilocus sequence data. These analyses include data summary, lineage assignment, and tests for recombination and selection. Diversity was observed in the cross-sectional survey of isolates obtained from 70 patients. Similarity in fingerprinting profiles observed in specimens of cases from the same family or neighborhood locations indicated a possible common source of infection. The data suggest that these VNTRs including subtyping of SNPs can be used to study the sources and transmission chain in leprosy, which could be very important in monitoring of the disease dynamics in high endemic foci. The present study strongly indicates that multi-case families might constitute epidemic foci and the main source of M. leprae in villages, causing the predominant strain or cluster infection leading to the spread of leprosy in the community.