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Mol Microbiol. 2000 Jun;36(5):1049-58.

Frequent interspecific genetic exchange between commensal Neisseriae and Neisseria meningitidis.

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Max-Planck-Institut für molekulare Genetik, Ihnestrasse 73, 14195 Berlin, Germany.


Natural sequence variation was investigated among serogroup A subgroup IV-1 Neisseria meningitidis isolated from diseased patients and healthy carriers in The Gambia, West Africa. The frequencies of DNA import were analysed by sequencing fragments of four linked genes encoding the immunogenic outer membrane proteins TbpB (transferrin binding protein B) and OpaA (an adhesin) plus two housekeeping enzymes. Seventeen foreign tbpB alleles were independently imported into the 98 strains tested, apparently due to immune selection. The median size of the imported DNA fragments was 5 kb, resulting in the occasional concurrent import of linked housekeeping genes by hitchhiking. Sequences of tbpB from other strains of N. meningitidis as well as commensal Neisseria lactamica and Neisseria spp. isolated from the same geographical area revealed that these species share a common tbpB gene pool and identified several examples of interspecific genetic exchange. These observations indicate that recombination can be more frequent between related species than within a species and indicate that effective vaccination against serogroup B meningococcal disease may be difficult to achieve.

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