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Mol Microbiol. 2005 Jul;57(2):468-83.

A genetic screen identifies genes and sites involved in pilin antigenic variation in Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

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Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, 303 E. Chicago Avenue, Searle 6-450, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


It has previously been shown that the frequency of pilin antigenic variation in Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the gonococcus, Gc) is regulated by iron availability. To identify factors involved in pilin variation in an iron-dependent or an iron-independent manner, we conducted a genetic screen of transposon-mutated gonococci using a pilus-dependent colony morphology phenotype to detect antigenic variation deficient mutants. Forty-six total mutants representing insertions in 30 different genes were shown to have reduced colony morphology changes resulting from impaired pilin variation. Five mutants exhibited an iron-dependent decrease in pilin variation, while the remaining 41 displayed an iron-independent decrease in pilin variation. Based on the levels of antigenic variation impairment, we defined the genes as being essential for, important for, or involved in antigenic variation. DNA repair and DNA transformation frequencies of each mutant were measured to determine whether other recombination-based processes were also affected in the mutants. Each mutant was placed into one of six classes based on their pilin variation, DNA repair and DNA transformation phenotypes. Among the many genes identified, recR is shown to be an additional member of the gonococcal RecF-like recombination pathway. In addition, recG and ruvA represent the first evidence that the processing of Holliday junctions is required for pilin antigenic variation. Moreover, two independent insertions in a non-coding region upstream of the pilE gene suggest that cis-acting sequences important for pilin variation are found in that region. Finally, insertions that effect expression of the thrB and thrC genes suggest that molecules in the threonine biosynthetic pathway are important for pilin variation. Many of the other genes identified in this genetic screen do not have an obvious role in pilin variation, DNA repair, or DNA transformation.

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