The genetics of Neisseria species

Ella Rotman, H. Steven Seifert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are closely related organisms that cause the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea and serious bacterial meningitis and septicemia, respectively. Both species possess multiple mechanisms to alter the expression of surface-exposed proteins through the processes of phase and antigenic variation. This potential for wide variability in surface-exposed structures allows the organisms to always have subpopulations of divergent antigenic types to avoid immune surveillance and to contribute to functional variation. Additionally, the Neisseria are naturally competent for DNA transformation, which is their main means of genetic exchange. Although bacteriophages and plasmids are present in this genus, they are not as effective as DNA transformation for horizontal genetic exchange. There are barriers to genetic transfer, such as restriction-modification systems and CRISPR loci, that limit particular types of exchange. These host-restricted pathogens illustrate the rich complexity of genetics that can help define the similarities and differences of closely related organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-431
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Genetics
StatePublished - Nov 23 2014


  • DNA transformation
  • antigenic variation
  • gonorrhea
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • meningitis
  • phase variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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