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Open Access Research article

Multilocus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis of clinical isolates of Aspergillus flavus from Iran reveals the first cases of Aspergillus minisclerotigenes associated with human infection

Parvin Dehghan1, Tien Bui2, Leona T Campbell2, Yu-Wen Lai2, Nai Tran-Dinh3, Farideh Zaini4 and Dee A Carter2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Parasitology & Mycology, Faculty of Medicine, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

2 School of Molecular Bioscience, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

3 CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences, Riverside Corporate Park, North Ryde, Sydney, NSW 2113, Australia

4 Department of Parasitology & Mycology, School of Public Health, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:358  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-358

Published: 1 July 2014

Abstract

Background

Aspergillus flavus is intensively studied for its role in infecting crop plants and contaminating produce with aflatoxin, but its role as a human pathogen is less well understood. In parts of the Middle East and India, A. flavus surpasses A. fumigatus as a cause of invasive aspergillosis and is a significant cause of cutaneous, sinus, nasal and nail infections.

Methods

A collection of 45 clinical and 10 environmental A. flavus isolates from Iran were analysed using Variable-Number Tandem-Repeat (VNTR) markers with MICROSAT and goeBURST to determine their genetic diversity and their relatedness to clinical and environmental A. flavus isolates from Australia. Phylogeny was assessed using partial β-tubulin and calmodulin gene sequencing, and mating type was determined by PCR. Antifungal susceptibility testing was performed on selected isolates using a reference microbroth dilution method.

Results

There was considerable diversity in the A. flavus collection, with no segregation on goeBURST networks according to source or geographic location. Three Iranian isolates, two from sinus infections and one from a paranasal infection grouped with Aspergillus minisclerotigenes, and all produced B and G aflatoxin. Phylogenic analysis using partial β-tubulin and calmodulin sequencing confirmed two of these as A. minisclerotigenes, while the third could not be differentiated from A. flavus and related species within Aspergillus section flavi. Based on epidemiological cut-off values, the A. minisclerotigens and A. flavus isolates tested were susceptible to commonly used antifungal drugs.

Conclusions

This is the first report of human infection due to A. minisclerotigenes, and it raises the possiblity that other species within Aspergillus section flavi may also cause clinical disease. Clinical isolates of A. flavus from Iran are not distinct from Australian isolates, indicating local environmental, climatic or host features, rather than fungal features, govern the high incidence of A. flavus infection in this region. The results of this study have important implications for biological control strategies that aim to reduce aflatoxin by the introduction of non-toxigenic strains, as potentially any strain of A. flavus, and closely related species like A. minisclerotigenes, might be capable of human infection.