Many pathogens use homologous recombination to vary surface antigens in order to avoid immune surveillance. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium responsible for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea, achieves this in part by changing the sequence of the major subunit of the type IV pilus in a process termed pilin antigenic variation (Av). The N. gonorrhoeae chromosome contains one expression locus (pilE) and many promoterless, partial-coding silent copies (pilS) that act as reservoirs for variant pilin information. Pilin Av occurs by high-frequency gene conversion reactions, which transfer pilS sequences into the pilE locus. We have developed a 454 sequencing-based assay to analyze the frequency and characteristics of pilin Av that allows a more robust analysis of pilin Av than previous assays. We used this assay to analyze mutations and conditions previously shown to affect pilin Av, confirming many but not all of the previously reported phenotypes. We show that mutations or conditions that cause growth defects can result in Av phenotypes when analyzed by phase variation-based assays. Adapting the 454 sequencing to analyze pilin Av demonstrates the utility of this technology to analyze any diversity generation system that uses recombination to develop biological diversity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology