Background Global roll-out of rapid molecular assays is revolutionising the diagnosis of rifampicin resistance, predictive of multidrug-resistance, in tuberculosis. However, 30% of the multidrug-resistant (MDR) strains in an eSwatini study harboured the Ile491Phe mutation in the rpoB gene, which is associated with poor rifampicin-based treatment outcomes but is missed by commercial molecular assays or scored as susceptible by phenotypic drug-susceptibility testing deployed in South Africa. We evaluated the presence of Ile491Phe among South African tuberculosis isolates reported as isoniazid-monoresistant according to current national testing algorithms.
Methods We screened records of 37 644 Mycobacterium tuberculosis positive cultures from four South African provinces, diagnosed at the National Health Laboratory Service-Dr George Mukhari Tertiary Laboratory, to identify isolates with rifampicin sensitivity and isoniazid resistance according to Xpert MTB/RIF, GenoType MTBDRplus, and BACTEC MGIT 960. Of 1823 isolates that met these criteria, 277 were randomly selected and screened for Ile491Phe with multiplex allele-specific PCR and Sanger sequencing of rpoB. Ile491Phe-positive strains (as well as 17 Ile491Phe-bearing isolates from the eSwatini study) were then tested by Deeplex-MycTB deep sequencing and whole-genome sequencing to evaluate their patterns of extensive resistance, transmission, and evolution.
Findings Ile491Phe was identified in 37 (15%) of 249 samples with valid multiplex allele-specific PCR and sequencing results, thus reclassifying them as MDR. All 37 isolates were additionally identified as genotypically resistant to all first-line drugs by Deeplex-MycTB. Six of the South African isolates harboured four distinct mutations potentially associated with decreased bedaquiline sensitivity. Consistent with Deeplex-MycTB genotypic profiles, whole-genome sequencing revealed concurrent silent spread in South Africa of a MDR tuberculosis strain lineage extending from the eSwatini outbreak and at least another independently emerged Ile491Phe-bearing lineage. Whole-genome sequencing further suggested acquisition of mechanisms compensating for the Ile491Phe fitness cost, and of additional bedaquiline resistance following the introduction of this drug in South Africa.
Interpretation A substantial number of MDR tuberculosis cases harbouring the Ile491Phe mutation in the rpoB gene in South Africa are missed by current diagnostic strategies, resulting in ineffective first-line treatment, continued amplification of drug resistance, and concurrent silent spread in the community. Copyright (c) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.