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The pneumococcus is a leading pathogen infecting children and adults. Safe, effective vaccines exist, and they work by inducing antibodies to the polysaccharide capsule (unique for each serotype) that surrounds the cell; however, current vaccines are limited by the fact that only a few of the nearly 100 antigenically distinct serotypes are included in the formulations. Within the serotypes, serogroup 6 pneumococci are a frequent cause of serious disease and common colonizers of the nasopharynx in children. Serotype 6E was first reported in 2004 but was thought to be rare; however, we and others have detected serotype 6E among recent pneumococcal collections. Therefore, we analyzed a diverse data set of ∼1,000 serogroup 6 genomes, assessed the prevalence and distribution of serotype 6E, analyzed the genetic diversity among serogroup 6 pneumococci, and investigated whether pneumococcal conjugate vaccine-induced serotype 6A and 6B antibodies mediate the killing of serotype 6E pneumococci. We found that 43% of all genomes were of serotype 6E, and they were recovered worldwide from healthy children and patients of all ages with pneumococcal disease. Four genetic lineages, three of which were multidrug resistant, described ∼90% of the serotype 6E pneumococci. Serological assays demonstrated that vaccine-induced serotype 6B antibodies were able to elicit killing of serotype 6E pneumococci. We also revealed three major genetic clusters of serotype 6A capsular sequences, discovered a new hybrid 6C/6E serotype, and identified 44 examples of serotype switching. Therefore, while vaccines appear to offer protection against serotype 6E, genetic variants may reduce vaccine efficacy in the longer term because of the emergence of serotypes that can evade vaccine-induced immunity.

Original publication




Journal article


J Clin Microbiol

Publication Date





2271 - 2285


Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Blood Bactericidal Activity, Child, Child, Preschool, Female, Genetic Variation, Genotype, Global Health, Humans, Infant, Male, Middle Aged, Molecular Typing, Pneumococcal Infections, Pneumococcal Vaccines, Prevalence, Serogroup, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Young Adult