Main content area

Evidence for Capsule Switching between Carried and Disease-Causing Neisseria meningitidis Strains

Beddek, Amanda J., Li, Ming-Shi, Kroll, J. Simon, Jordan, T. William, Martin, Diana R.
Infection and immunity 2009 v.77 no.7 pp. 2989-2994
DNA, Neisseria meningitidis, genes, genetic relationships, immune system, loci, pathogens, sequence analysis, serotypes, New Zealand
Changing antigenic structure such as with capsule polysaccharide is a common strategy for bacterial pathogens to evade a host immune system. The recent emergence of an invasive W:2a:P1.7-2,4 sequence type 11 (ST-11) strain of Neisseria meningitidis in New Zealand, an uncommon serogroup/serotype in New Zealand disease cases, was investigated for its genetic origins. Molecular typing of 107 meningococcal isolates with similar serotyping characteristics was undertaken to determine genetic relationships. Results indicated that the W:2a:P1.7-2,4 strain had emerged via capsule switching from a group C strain (C:2a:P1.7-2,4). Neither the upstream nor downstream sites of recombination could be elucidated, but sequence analysis demonstrated that at least 45 kb of DNA was involved in the recombination, including the entire capsule gene cluster. The oatWY gene carried by the W:2a:P1.7-2,4 strain contained the insertion sequence element IS1301, one of five variants of oatWY found in group W135 strains belonging to the carriage-associated ST-22 clonal complex. This suggested that the origin of the capsule genes carried by the invasive W:2a:P1.7-2,4 strain is carriage associated. These results provide novel evidence for the long-standing dogma that disease-associated strains acquire antigenic structure from carriage-associated strains. Moreover, the capsule switch described here has arisen from the exchange of the entire capsule locus.