U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


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System. Appl. Microbiol. 26, 3–12 (2003)


The causative agent of Whipple’s disease, Tropheryma whipplei, is a slow-growing bacterium that remains poorly-understood. Genetic characterization of this organism has relied heavily upon rRNA sequence analysis. Pending completion of a complete genome sequencing effort, we have characterized several conserved non-rRNA genes from T. whipplei directly from infected tissue using broad-range PCR and a genome-walking strategy. Our goals were to evaluate its phylogenetic relationships, and to find ways to expand the strain typing scheme, based on rDNA sequence comparisons. The genes coding for the ATP synthase beta subunit (atpD), elongation factor Tu (tuf), heat shock protein GroEL (groEL), beta subunit of DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (rpoB), and RNase P RNA (rnpB) were analyzed, as well as the regions upstream and downstream of the rRNA operon. Phylogenetic analyses with all nonrRNA marker molecules consistently placed T. whipplei within the class, Actinobacteria. The arrangement of genes in the atpD and rpoB chromosomal regions was also consistent with other actinomycete genomes. Tandem sequence repeats were found upstream and downstream of the rRNA operon, and downstream of the groEL gene. These chromosomal sites and the 16S-23S rRNA intergenic spacer regions were examined in the specimens of 11 patients, and a unique combination of tandem repeat numbers and spacer polymorphisms was found in each patient. These data provide the basis for a more discriminatory typing method for T. whipplei.