1 Veterinary Clinical Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet2 Section of Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Københavns Universitet3 Ghent University4 Utrecht University5 Section of Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Københavns Universitet6 Veterinary Clinical Microbiology, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet7 Utrecht University
INTRODUCTION: Staphylococcus aureus sequence type ST398 has recently gained attention due to the spread of methicillin-resistant strains among people exposed to livestock. The aim of this study was to explore temporal changes in the population structure of S. aureus in pigs over the last 40 years with particular reference to the occurrence of ST398. METHODS: We analysed a unique collection of 91 porcine strains isolated in six countries between 1973 and 2009 using a biotyping scheme described in the 1970's in combination with spa typing and multi-locus sequence typing (MLST). The collection comprised 32 historical isolates from 1973-1974 (n = 19) and from 1991-2003 (n = 13), and 59 contemporary isolates from 2004-2009. The latter isolates represented the most common MLST types (ST1, ST9, ST97 and ST433) and spa types isolated from pigs in Europe. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: S. aureus sequence type ST398 was not found among old isolates from the 1970's or from 1991-2003, suggesting that this lineage was absent or present at low frequencies in pigs in the past. This hypothesis is supported by the observed association of ST398 with the ovine ecovar, which was not described in pigs by studies carried out in the 1970's. In addition, various phenotypic and genotypic differences were observed between old and contemporary isolates. Some biotypes commonly reported in pigs in the 1970's were either absent (human ecovar) or rare (biotype A) among contemporary isolates. Nine clonal lineages found among old porcine isolates are occasionally reported in pigs today (ST8, ST30, ST97, ST387, ST1092, ST2468) or have never been described in this animal host (ST12, ST133, ST1343). These results indicate that the population structure of porcine S. aureus has changed over the last 40 years and confirm the current theory that S. aureus ST398 does not originate from pigs.