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J Bacteriol. 2012 Oct;194(20):5649-56. Epub 2012 Aug 17.

Genomic basis of a polyagglutinating isolate of Neisseria meningitidis.

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School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Containment strategies for outbreaks of invasive Neisseria meningitidis disease are informed by serogroup assays that characterize the polysaccharide capsule. We sought to uncover the genomic basis of conflicting serogroup assay results for an isolate (M16917) from a patient with acute meningococcal disease. To this end, we characterized the complete genome sequence of the M16917 isolate and performed a variety of comparative sequence analyses against N. meningitidis reference genome sequences of known serogroups. Multilocus sequence typing and whole-genome sequence comparison revealed that M16917 is a member of the ST-11 sequence group, which is most often associated with serogroup C. However, sequence similarity comparisons and phylogenetic analysis showed that the serogroup diagnostic capsule polymerase gene (synD) of M16917 belongs to serogroup B. These results suggest that a capsule-switching event occurred based on homologous recombination at or around the capsule locus of M16917. Detailed analysis of this locus uncovered the locations of recombination breakpoints in the M16917 genome sequence, which led to the introduction of an ∼2-kb serogroup B sequence cassette into the serogroup C genomic background. Since there is no currently available vaccine for serogroup B strains of N. meningitidis, this kind capsule-switching event could have public health relevance as a vaccine escape mutant.

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