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Microbiology. 2002 Feb;148(Pt 2):473-480. doi: 10.1099/00221287-148-2-473.

A novel paralogous gene family involved in phase-variable flagella-mediated motility in Campylobacter jejuni.

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Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK1.
Department of Neuroimmunology, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, KCL, Guy's Campus, London SE1 1UL, UK2.


Flagella-mediated motility is recognized to be one of the major factors contributing to virulence in Campylobacter jejuni. Motility of this bacterium is known to be phase variable, although the mechanism of such variation remains unknown. C. jejuni genome sequencing revealed a number of genes prone to phase variation via a slipped-strand mispairing mechanism. Many of these genes are hypothetical and are clustered in the regions involved in formation of three major cell surface structures: capsular polysaccharide, lipooligosaccharide and flagella. Among the genes of unknown function, the flagellar biosynthesis and modification region contains seven hypothetical paralogous genes designated as the motility accessory factor (maf) family. Remarkably, two of these genes (maf1 and maf4) were found to be identical and both contain homopolymeric G tracts. Using insertional mutagenesis it was demonstrated that one of the genes, maf5, is involved in formation of flagella. Phase variation of the maf1 gene via slipped-strand mispairing partially restored motility of the maf5 mutant. The maf family represents a new class of bacterial genes related to flagellar biosynthesis and phase variation. Reversible expression of flagella may be advantageous for the adaptation of C. jejunito the varied in vivo and ex vivo environments encountered during its life cycle, as well in evasion of the host immune response.

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