Four strains of Mycoplasma mycoides subsp.mycoides small colony type (MmmSC) isolated from recent outbreaks of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) in Africa have been investigated. One Botswanan strain, M375, displayed numerous and significant phenotypic differences from both contemporary field isolates and older field and vaccine strains (African, Australian, and European strains dating back to 1936). Differences include altered morphology, reduced capsular polysaccharide production, high sensitivity to MmmSC rabbit hyperimmune antisera in vitro, and unique polymorphisms following immunoblotting.
While insertion sequence analysis using IS1634 clearly indicates a close evolutionary relationship to west African strains, hybridization with IS1296 shows the absence of a band present in all other strains of MmmSC examined. The data suggest that a deletion has occurred in strain M375, which may explain its altered phenotype, including poor growth in vitro and a relative inability to cause septicemia in mice. These characteristics are also exhibited by Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capripneumoniae (causal agent of contagious caprine pleuropneumonia [CCPP]), against which M375 antiserum exhibited some activity in vitro (unique among the various MmmSC antisera tested).
These findings may have evolutionary implications, since CCPP is believed to be lung specific and without a septicemic phase (unlike CBPP). Since M375 was isolated from a clinical case of CBPP, this novel biotype may be fairly widespread but not normally isolated due to difficulty of culture and/or a potentially altered disease syndrome. Bovine convalescent antisera (obtained from contemporary naturally infected cattle in Botswana) were active against strain M375 in an in vitro growth inhibition test but not against any other strains of MmmSC tested. There exists the possibility therefore, that strain M375 may possess a set of protective antigens different from those of other strains of MmmSC (including vaccine strains). These findings have implications for the control of the current CBPP epidemic in Africa.