Phase variation in meningococcal lipooligosaccharide biosynthesis genes.
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Neisseria meningitidis expresses a range of lipooligosaccharide (LOS) structures, comprising of at least 13 immunotypes (ITs). Meningococcal LOS is subject to phase variation of its terminal structures allowing switching between ITs, which is proposed to have functional significance in disease. The objectives of this study were to investigate the repertoire of structures that can be expressed in clinical isolates, and to examine the role of phase-variable expression of LOS genes during invasive disease. Southern blotting was used to detect the presence of LOS biosynthetic genes in two collections of meningococci, a global set of strains previously assigned to lineages of greater or lesser virulence, and a collection of local clinical isolates which included paired throat and blood isolates from individual patients. Where the phase-variable genes lgtA, lgtC or lgtG were identified, they were amplified by PCR and the homopolymeric tracts, responsible for their phase-variable expression, were sequenced. The results revealed great potential for variation between alternate LOS structures in the isolates studied, with most strains capable of expressing several alternative terminal structures. The structures predicted to be currently expressed by the genotype of the strains agreed well with conventional immunotyping. No correlation was observed between the structural repertoire and virulence of the isolate. Based on the potential for LOS phase variation in the clinical collection and observations with the paired patient isolates, our data suggest that phase variation of LOS structures is not required for translocation between distinct compartments in the host.
FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology