The Distribution and 'In Vivo' Phase Variation Status of Haemoglobin Receptors in Invasive Meningococcal Serogroup B Disease: Genotypic and Phenotypic Analysis

Jay Lucidarme, Jamie Findlow, Hannah Chan, Ian M. Feavers, Stephen J. Gray, Edward Kaczmarski, Julian Parkhill, Xilian Bai, Raymond Borrow, Christopher D. Bayliss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Two haemoglobin-binding proteins, HmbR and HpuAB, contribute to iron acquisition by Neisseria meningitidis. These receptors are subject to high frequency, reversible switches in gene expression - phase variation (PV) - due to mutations in homopolymeric (poly-G) repeats present in the open reading frame. The distribution and PV state of these receptors was assessed for a representative collection of isolates from invasive meningococcal disease patients of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Most of the major clonal complexes had only the HmbR receptor whilst the recently expanding ST-275-centred cluster of the ST-269 clonal complex had both receptors. At least one of the receptors was in an 'ON' configuration in 76.3% of the isolates, a finding that was largely consistent with phenotypic analyses. As PV status may change during isolation and culture of meningococci, a PCR-based protocol was utilised to confirm the expression status of the receptors within contemporaneously acquired clinical specimens (blood/cerebrospinal fluid) from the respective patients. The expression state was confirmed for all isolate/specimen pairs with <15 tract repeats indicating that the PV status of these receptors is stable during isolation. This study therefore establishes a protocol for determining in vivo PV status to aid in determining the contributions of phase variable genes to invasive meningococcal disease. Furthermore, the results of the study support a putative but non-essential role of the meningococcal haemoglobin receptors as virulence factors whilst further highlighting their vaccine candidacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere76932
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2013

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