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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 20;5(12):e15660. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015660.

Genetic variation in the complete MgPa operon and its repetitive chromosomal elements in clinical strains of Mycoplasma genitalium.

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Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America.


Mycoplasma genitalium has been increasingly recognized as an important microbe not only because of its significant association with human genital tract diseases but also because of its utility as a model for studying the minimum set of genes necessary to sustain life. Despite its small genome, 4.7% of the total genome sequence is devoted to making the MgPa adhesin operon and its nine chromosomal repetitive elements (termed MgPars). The MgPa operon, along with 9 MgPars, is believed to play an important role in pathogenesis of M. genitalium infection and has also served as the main target for development of diagnostic tools. However, genetic variation in the complete MgPa operon and MgPars among clinical strains of M. genitalium has not been addressed. In this study we examined the genetic variation in the complete MgPa operon (approximately 8.5 kb) and full or partial MgPar sequences (0.4-2.6 kb) in 15 geographically diverse strains of M. genitalium. Extensive variation was present in four repeat regions of the MgPa operon (with homology to MgPars) among and within strains while the non-repeat regions (without homology to MgPars) showed low-level variation among strains and no variation within strains. MgPars showed significant variation among strains but were highly homogeneous within strains, supporting gene conversion as the likely recombination mechanism. When applying our sequence data to evaluate published MgPa operon-based diagnostic PCR assays and genotyping systems, we found that 11 of 19 primers contain up to 19 variable nucleotides and that the target for one of two typing systems is located in a hypervariable repeat region, suggesting the likelihood of false results with some of these assays. This study not only provides new insights into the role of the MgPa operon in the pathogenesis of M. genitalium infection but has important implications for the development of diagnostic tools.

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