The application of a diagnostic and genotyping technique based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to the study of trachoma epidemiology in the Gambian village of Jali is reported. PCR based on the major outer membrane protein (MOMP) gene of Chlamydia trachomatis appears to be more sensitive than either isolation or antigen detection by enzyme immunoassay; it had a specificity of 95% and sensitivity of 51% against clinical signs. PCR genotyping identified genotypes A and B of Chlamydia trachomatis circulating in Jali. Sequencing revealed a Pst1 restriction endonuclease site in the amplified MOMP gene of some B strains but not others; Pst1 digestion of the PCR product proved an easy method of distinguishing these strains. The distribution of serotypes and B strain variants shows a significant degree of household clustering (p < 0.001). PCR based genotyping combined with strain typing provides a new and powerful epidemiological tool for the study of transmission events in trachoma.
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