We have developed a novel Multilocus Sequence Typing Scheme (MLST) and database (http://pubmlst.org/pacnes/) for Propionibacterium acnes based on the analysis of seven core housekeeping genes. The scheme, which was validated against previously described antibody, single locus and Random Amplification of Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) typing methods, displayed excellent resolution and differentiated 123 isolates into 37 sequence types (ST). An overall clonal population structure was detected with six eBURST groups representing the major clades I, II and III, along with two singletons. Two highly successful and global clonal lineages, ST6 (type IA) and ST10 (type IB1), representing 65% of this current MLST isolate collection were identified. The ST6 clone and closely related single locus variants (SLV), which comprise a large clonal complex CC6, dominated isolates from patients with acne, and were also significantly associated with ophthalmic infections. Our data therefore supports an association between acne and P. acnes strains from the type IA cluster and highlights the role of a widely disseminated clonal genotype in this condition. Characterisation of type I cell surface-associated antigens that are not detected in ST10 or strains of type II and III identified two dermatan-sulphate-binding proteins with putative phase/antigenic variation signatures. We propose that the expression of these proteins by type IA organisms contributes to their role in the pathophysiology of acne and helps explain the recurrent nature of the disease. The MLST scheme and database described in this study should provide a valuable platform for future epidemiological and evolutionary studies of P. acnes.
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