Analysis of pilin antigenic variation in neisseria meningitidis by next-generation sequencing

Jing Xu, H. Steven Seiferta*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Many pathogenic microbes evade host immune surveillance by varying the surface antigens, a process termed antigenic variation. While the process of pilin antigenic variation has been extensively studied in the human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonococcus [Gc]), relatively few studies of pilin antigenic variation have been conducted with Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus [Mc]). Mc is usually a commensal organism that colonizes the human nasopharynx, but when it translo-cates to the bloodstream or meninges, it results in the severe and often deadly meningococcal disease. The type IV pili of Mc isolates play a critical role in host surface adherence, and its major pilin component (PilE) can undergo antigenic variation. In this study, Roche 454 pyrosequencing was used to examine the pilin antigenic variation of Mc strain 8013, as well as 8013 recA, recX, recQ, rep, and recJ mutants, Gc orthologues which have been shown to play a role in pilin antigenic variation. This study confirms that the Mc recA, rep, and recJ genes are essential for pilin antigenic variation. While the Mc recQ and recX gene products contribute to normal frequencies of antigenic variation, the loss of these factors does not alter the types of pilin variants produced. Overall, this study shows that the mechanisms of pilin antigenic variation are conserved between Gc and Mc. IMPORTANCE Antigenic variation is a strategy used by many pathogens to escape host immune surveillance and establish persistent infections. This study successfully applies next-generation sequencing to study pilin antigenic variation in the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis. This assay provides an affordable and efficient solution for quantifying antigenic variation frequency in mutant strains and for defining the recombination products of the process. We determined that there is a nonuniformity of silent donor copies used during meningococcus antigenic variation, and by the analysis of selected mutants deficient for specific recombination pathways, we show for the first time that the processes are conserved between N. meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0046518
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • 454 sequencing
  • Antigenic variation
  • Diversity generation
  • Gene conversion
  • Pilus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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