Distribution of the type III DNA methyltransferases modA, modB and modD among Neisseria meningitidis genotypes: implications for gene regulation and virulence
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Neisseria meningitidis is a human-specific bacterium that varies in invasive potential. All meningococci are carried in the nasopharynx, and most genotypes are very infrequently associated with invasive meningococcal disease; however, those belonging to the ‘hyperinvasive lineages’ are more frequently associated with sepsis or meningitis. Genome content is highly conserved between carriage and disease isolates, and differential gene expression has been proposed as a major determinant of the hyperinvasive phenotype. Three phase variable DNA methyltransferases (ModA, ModB and ModD), which mediate epigenetic regulation of distinct phase variable regulons (phasevarions), have been identified in N. meningitidis. Each mod gene has distinct alleles, defined by their Mod DNA recognition domain, and these target and methylate different DNA sequences, thereby regulating distinct gene sets. Here 211 meningococcal carriage and >1,400 disease isolates were surveyed for the distribution of meningococcal mod alleles. While modA11-12 and modB1-2 were found in most isolates, rarer alleles (e.g., modA15, modB4, modD1-6) were specific to particular genotypes as defined by clonal complex. This suggests that phase variable Mod proteins may be associated with distinct phenotypes and hence invasive potential of N. meningitidis strains.
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