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Despite recent advances in typhoid fever control, asymptomatic carriage of Salmonella Typhi in the gallbladder remains poorly understood. Aiming to understand if S. Typhi becomes genetically adapted for long-term colonisation in the gallbladder, we performed whole genome sequencing on a collection of S. Typhi isolated from the gallbladders of typhoid carriers. These sequences were compared to contemporaneously sampled sequences from organisms isolated from the blood of acute patients within the same population. We found that S. Typhi carriage was not restricted to any particular genotype or conformation of antimicrobial resistance genes, but was largely reflective of S. Typhi circulating in the general population. However, gallbladder isolates showed a higher genetic variability than acute isolates, with median pairwise SNP distances of 21 and 13 SNPs (p = 2.8x10-9), respectively. Within gallbladder isolates of the predominant H58 genotype, variation was associated with a higher prevalence of nonsense mutations. Notably, gallbladder isolates displayed a higher frequency of non-synonymous mutations in genes encoding hypothetical proteins, membrane lipoproteins, transport/binding proteins, surface antigens, and carbohydrate degradation. Specifically, we identified several gallbladder-specific non-synonymous mutations involved in LPS synthesis and modification, with some isolates lacking the Vi capsular polysaccharide vaccine target due to the 134Kb deletion of SPI-7. S. Typhi is under strong selective pressure in the human gallbladder, which may be reflected phylogenetically by long terminal branches that may distinguish organisms from chronic and acute infections. Our work shows that selective pressures asserted by the hostile environment of the human gallbladder generate new antigenic variants and raises questions regarding the role of carriage in the epidemiology of typhoid fever.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Pathog

Publication Date





Adaptation, Biological, Adult, Aged, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Female, Gallbladder, Genetic Variation, Genotype, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Mutation, Phylogeny, Salmonella typhi, Typhoid Fever, Whole Genome Sequencing