In the era of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, surveillance of pneumococcal disease and carriage remains of utmost importance as important changes may occur in the population. To monitor these alterations reliable genotyping methods are required for large-scale applications. We introduced a high throughput multiple-locus variable number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) and compared this method with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and multilocus sequence typing (MLST). The MLVA described here is based on 8 BOX loci that are amplified in two multiplex PCRs. The labeled PCR products are sized on an automated DNA sequencer to accurately determine the number of tandem repeats. The composite of the number of repeats of the BOX loci makes up a numerical profile that is used for identification and clustering. In this study, MLVA was performed on 263 carriage isolates that were previously characterized by MLST and PFGE. MLVA, MLST and PFGE (cut-off of 80%) yielded 164, 120, and 87 types, respectively. The three typing methods had Simpson's diversity indices of 98.5% or higher. Congruence between MLST and MLVA was high. The Wallace of MLVA to MLST was 0.874, meaning that if two strains had the same MLVA type they had an 88% chance of having the same MLST type. Furthermore, the Wallace of MLVA to clonal complex of MLST was even higher: 99.5%. For some isolates belonging to a single MLST clonal complex although displaying different serotypes, MLVA was more discriminatory, generating groups according to serotype or serogroup. Overall, MLVA is a promising genotyping method that is easy to perform and a relatively cheap alternative to PFGE and MLST. In the companion paper published simultaneously in this issue we applied the MLVA to assess the pneumococcal population structure of isolates causing invasive disease in the Netherlands before the introduction of the 7-valent conjugate vaccine
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