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Int J Med Microbiol. 2007 Nov;297(7-8):601-13. Epub 2007 Jun 14.

Living in a changing environment: insights into host adaptation in Neisseria meningitidis from comparative genomics.

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  • 1Institut für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie, Universität Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Str. 2, Bau E1, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany.


Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) colonizes the human nasopharynx of about 10% of the human population. However, for reasons that are still mostly unknown meningococci occasionally enter the cerebrospinal fluid leading to often fatal bacterial meningitis especially in children and young adults. The genetic basis for the observed differences in the pathogenic potential of different strains has only partially been unravelled so far. With the advent of whole genome sequencing technologies, complete genome sequences from three pathogenic meningococcal strains have become available and allow for a comprehensive analysis of the genomic and genetic differences occurring within this species. In this review, the general properties of the meningococcal genomes so far sequenced is given with an emphasis on the chromosomal rearrangements that have occurred, and the genomic islands and prophages that have been identified. The concomitant development of microarray technology for comparative genome hybridization studies of a large set of different meningococcal isolates as well as strains from other Neisseria species has extended our understanding of meningococcal population genetics on a genome-wide scale thus bridging the gap between meningococcal epidemiology and genomics. Finally, we briefly discuss the potential impact of meningococcal life style on its genome architecture and how in turn this genomic make-up might lead to a virulent phenotype making N. meningitidis an accidental pathogen. The overall properties of the meningococcal genome are characterized by genomic variability and instability, resulting in increased functional flexibility within this species.

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