Location, Location, Location—Commensalism, Damage and Evolution of the Pathogenic Neisseria

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23 Scopus citations


The 10 human-restricted Neisseria species all colonize mucosal surfaces, but show a spectrum of pathogenicity. The commensal Neisseria do not normally cause pathology, while the two pathogenic species, Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, straddle the border between commensalism and pathogenicity. Why the pathogenic Neisseria continue to mediate host damage after thousands of years of co-evolution with their human host, and why the commensal species have not acquired the ability to damage the host, if this capability provides a selective advantage, is not understood. One way the pathogenic species are different from the commensal species is by their ability to induce PMN inflammation, which is dependent on the site of colonization. I discuss how the site of colonization dictates whether copious inflammation occurs with both pathogenic species. I put forth a model that posits that an ancestor of both pathogenic species changed colonization site from the oral cavity to the genital tract of a human or humanoid and had to evolve multiple, new traits — to induce PMN inflammation and avoid adaptive immunity — to allow efficient sexual transmission. This model predicts that PMN inflammation produces the serious sequelae of gonorrhea and increases the probability that N. meningitidis might exit the oral cavity to produce systemic disease. In both cases, the pathology produced by these host-adapted species is an unintended by product of the inflammation but host damage does not provide any selective advantage for these organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3010-3014
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jul 26 2019


  • bacterial meningitis
  • commensalism
  • evolution
  • gonorrhea
  • polymorphonuclear leukocytes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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