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Microbiology. 2001 Aug;147(Pt 8):2321-32.

Comparative whole-genome analyses reveal over 100 putative phase-variable genes in the pathogenic Neisseria spp.

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The Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3RE, UK.


Previously, a complete genome analysis of Neisseria meningitidis strain MC58 revealed the largest repertoire of putative phase-variable genes described in any species to date. Initial comparisons with two incomplete Neisseria spp. genome sequences available at that time revealed differences in the repeats associated with these genes in the form of polymorphisms, the absence of the potentially unstable elements in some alleles, and in the repertoire of the genes that were present. Analyses of the complete genomes of N. meningitidis strain Z2491 and Neisseria gonorrhoeae strain FA1090 have been performed and are combined with a comprehensive comparative analysis between the three available complete genome sequences. This has increased the sensitivity of these searches and provided additional contextual information that facilitates the interpretation of the functional consequences of repeat instability. This analysis identified: (i) 68 phase-variable gene candidates in N. meningitidis strain Z2491, rather than the 27 previously reported; (ii) 83 candidates in N. gonorrhoeae strain FA1090; and (iii) 82 candidates in N. meningitidis strain MC58, including an additional 19 identified through cross-comparisons with the other two strains. In addition to the 18 members of the opa gene family, a repertoire of 119 putative phase-variable genes is described, indicating a huge potential for diversification mediated by this mechanism of gene switching in these species that is central to their interactions with the host and environmental transitions. Eighty-two of these are either known (14) or strong (68) candidates for phase variation, which together with the opa genes make a total of 100 identified genes. The repertoires of the genes identified in this analysis diverge from the different species groupings, indicating horizontal exchange that significantly affects the species and strain complements of these genes.

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