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Mol Microbiol. 1987 Jul;1(1):5-12.

Common mechanism controlling phase and antigenic variation in pathogenic neisseriae.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Biologie, Infektgenetik, Tübingen, FRG.


The expression of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae opacity protein (Op, protein II), a major antigenic determinant of the outer membrane, is subject to frequent phase transitions. At least nine expression loci (opaE) are involved in the production of a large number of serologically distinct Op types. Using opa-specific oligonucleotides as probes in genomic blots, we detect Op-related gene sequences (opr) in N. meningitidis as well as in N. lactamica. DNA sequence analysis of such opr genes derived from N. meningitidis reveals distinct regions of homology with gonococcal opa E genes. As shown in the immunoblot, the proteins encoded by opa and opr are serologically related. Like the opaE genes, the 5'-coding sequences of the opr genes include a repetitive sequence composed of pentameric CTCTT units. The number of these coding repeat (CR) units is variable. This finding, together with the observation that all opr genes are constitutively transcribed, regardless of the status of protein production, suggests a translational control mechanism identical to that of the opa genes in gonococci. The related structures and control mechanisms of opa and opr genes imply a general significance of their gene products for the pathogenic character of the investigated Neisseria species.

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