Multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) is useful to establish transmission routes and sources of infections for various microorganisms including Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTC). The recently released SITVITWEB database contains 12-loci Mycobacterial Interspersed Repetitive Units – Variable Number of Tandem DNA Repeats (MIRU-VNTR) profiles and spoligotype patterns for thousands of MTC strains; it uses MIRU International Types (MIT) and Spoligotype International Types (SIT) to designate clustered patterns worldwide. Considering existing doubts on the ability of spoligotyping alone to reveal exact phylogenetic relationships between MTC strains, we developed a MLVA based classification for MTC genotypic lineages. We studied 6 different subsets of MTC isolates encompassing 7793 strains worldwide. Minimum spanning trees (MST) were constructed to identify major lineages, and the most common representative located as a central node was taken as the prototype defining different phylogenetic groups. A total of 7 major lineages with their respective prototypes were identified: Indo-Oceanic/MIT57, East Asian and African Indian/MIT17, Euro American/MIT116, West African-I/MIT934, West African-II/MIT664, M. bovis/MIT49, M.canettii/MIT60. Further MST subdivision identified an additional 34 sublineage MIT prototypes. The phylogenetic relationships among the 37 newly defined MIRU-VNTR lineages were inferred using a classification algorithm based on a bayesian approach. This information was used to construct an updated phylogenetic and phylogeographic snapshot of worldwide MTC diversity studied both at the regional, sub-regional, and country level according to the United Nations specifications. We also looked for IS6110 insertional events that are known to modify the results of the spoligotyping in specific circumstances, and showed that a fair portion of convergence leading to the currently observed bias in phylogenetic classification of strains may be traced back to the presence of IS6110. These results shed new light on the evolutionary history of the pathogen in relation to the history of peopling and human migration.
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