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Mol Microbiol. 2006 Jul;61(1):185-93.

Loss of both Holliday junction processing pathways is synthetically lethal in the presence of gonococcal pilin antigenic variation.

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


The obligate human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gc) has co-opted conserved recombination pathways to achieve immune evasion by way of antigenic variation (Av). We show that both the RuvABC and RecG Holliday junction (HJ) processing pathways are required for recombinational repair, each can act during genetic transfer, and both are required for pilin Av. Analysis of double mutants shows that either the RecG or RuvAB HJ processing pathway must be functional for normal growth of Gc when RecA is expressed. HJ processing-deficient survivors of RecA expression are enriched for non-piliated bacteria that carry large deletions of the pilE gene. Mutations that prevent pilin variation such as recO, recQ, and a cis-acting pilE transposon insertion all rescue the RecA-dependent growth inhibition of a HJ processing-deficient strain. These results show that pilin Av produces a recombination intermediate that must be processed by either one of the HJ pathways to retain viability, but requires both HJ processing pathways to yield pilin variants. The need for diversity generation through frequent recombination reactions creates a situation where the HJ processing machinery is essential for growth and presents a possible target for novel antimicrobials against gonorrhoea.

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