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Annu Rev Genet. 2014;48:405-31. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-120213-092007. Epub 2014 Sep 10.

The genetics of Neisseria species.

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Department of Microbiology-Immunology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60611; email: ,


Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are closely related organisms that cause the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea and serious bacterial meningitis and septicemia, respectively. Both species possess multiple mechanisms to alter the expression of surface-exposed proteins through the processes of phase and antigenic variation. This potential for wide variability in surface-exposed structures allows the organisms to always have subpopulations of divergent antigenic types to avoid immune surveillance and to contribute to functional variation. Additionally, the Neisseria are naturally competent for DNA transformation, which is their main means of genetic exchange. Although bacteriophages and plasmids are present in this genus, they are not as effective as DNA transformation for horizontal genetic exchange. There are barriers to genetic transfer, such as restriction-modification systems and CRISPR loci, that limit particular types of exchange. These host-restricted pathogens illustrate the rich complexity of genetics that can help define the similarities and differences of closely related organisms.


DNA transformation; antigenic variation; gonorrhea; horizontal gene transfer; meningitis; phase variation

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