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J Infect Dis. 2005 Jun 15;191(12):2082-9. Epub 2005 May 5.

Mechanisms underlying Campylobacter fetus pathogenesis in humans: surface-layer protein variation in relapsing infections.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA.


Campylobacter fetus causes gastrointestinal and systemic infections in humans. Although relapse is common despite antibiotic treatment, the mechanisms are not well understood. The surface-layer proteins (SLPs) of C. fetus, which are critical in virulence, undergo high-frequency phenotypic switching due to recombination of sap homologues, resulting in antigenic variation. To investigate the mechanisms involved in relapsing C. fetus infections, we compared SLP variation in 4 pairs of C. fetus strains that infect humans; initial and follow-up isolations were performed 20 days to 34 months apart. Of the 4 pairs of strains, 2 had antigenic variation, and another provided evidence for selection for SLP-positive populations. Southern hybridization indicated recombination underlying the SLP variation and up-regulation. The fourth pair had the same SLP antigenic profile and sap homologue hybridization pattern, which is consistent with latency of the original strain in a privileged locus. In total, these findings indicate that relapse may reflect at least 3 differing pathogenetic pathways.

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