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Infect Immun. 2005 Aug;73(8):5106-14.

Establishment of cloned Anaplasma phagocytophilum and analysis of p44 gene conversion within an infected horse and infected SCID mice.

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Department of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, 1925 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1093, USA.


Diverse p44 alleles at the p44 expression locus (p44Es) encoding surface-exposed major membrane proteins, P44s, of Anaplasma phagocytophilum were hypothesized to be garnered by recombination to enact antigenic variation. However, this hypothesis has not been proven so far, due to inability to clone this obligate intragranulocytic rickettsia. To define the p44E recombination, we developed a novel method to clone A. phagocytophilum. This isogenic cloned population containing a defined p44E was used to infect a naive horse and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice. During a 58-day infection period in the blood of the horse, p44E conversion was evident in a total of 11 new p44Es, 48% (115/242) of the sequenced p44E population. During a 50-day infection period in the blood of SCID mice, p44E conversion was manifested in a total of 13 new p44Es, 42% (192/460) of the p44E population. Thus, similar levels of p44E convertants were detected in either the presence or absence of an acquired immune system, suggesting that T- and B-cell immune pressure was not essential for recombination and/or selection of the p44E variants. Analysis of sequentially changed p44Es revealed that the entire central hypervariable region of donor p44 pseudogenes or of donor full-length p44s replaced the same region of the resident p44E as a cassette. Putative recombination points were detected within p44 conserved regions flanking the central hypervariable region by the TOPALi analysis. Our results unambiguously demonstrated p44E recombination. The cloning method developed would facilitate precise analysis of the recombination process and the extent of diversity which the recombination creates in the antigenic repertoire.

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