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J Bacteriol. 2011 Jul;193(14):3633-41. doi: 10.1128/JB.01198-10. Epub 2011 May 27.

Using single-nucleotide polymorphisms to discriminate disease-associated from carried genomes of Neisseria meningitidis.

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  • 1School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.


Neisseria meningitidis is one of the main agents of bacterial meningitis, causing substantial morbidity and mortality worldwide. However, most of the time N. meningitidis is carried as a commensal not associated with invasive disease. The genomic basis of the difference between disease-associated and carried isolates of N. meningitidis may provide critical insight into mechanisms of virulence, yet it has remained elusive. Here, we have taken a comparative genomics approach to interrogate the difference between disease-associated and carried isolates of N. meningitidis at the level of individual nucleotide variations (i.e., single nucleotide polymorphisms [SNPs]). We aligned complete genome sequences of 8 disease-associated and 4 carried isolates of N. meningitidis to search for SNPs that show mutually exclusive patterns of variation between the two groups. We found 63 SNPs that distinguish the 8 disease-associated genomes from the 4 carried genomes of N. meningitidis, which is far more than can be expected by chance alone given the level of nucleotide variation among the genomes. The putative list of SNPs that discriminate between disease-associated and carriage genomes may be expected to change with increased sampling or changes in the identities of the isolates being compared. Nevertheless, we show that these discriminating SNPs are more likely to reflect phenotypic differences than shared evolutionary history. Discriminating SNPs were mapped to genes, and the functions of the genes were evaluated for possible connections to virulence mechanisms. A number of overrepresented functional categories related to virulence were uncovered among SNP-associated genes, including genes related to the category "symbiosis, encompassing mutualism through parasitism."

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