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Cell. 1985 Feb;40(2):293-300.

Role of chromosomal rearrangement in N. gonorrhoeae pilus phase variation.


N. gonorrhoeae undergoes pilus phase and antigenic variation. During phase variation, the pilin gene is turned on and off at high frequencies. Two loci on the gonococcal chromosome from strain MS11 function as expression sites for the pilin gene (pilE1 and pilE2); many other sites apparently contain silent variant pilin sequences. We reported previously that during pilus phase variation, when cells switch from the pilus expressing state (P+) to the nonexpressing state (P-), genome rearrangement occurs. We have examined phase variation in more detail, and we report that in most P+ to P- switches a deletion of pilin gene information occurs in one or both expression sites. This deletion is due to either a simple or a multiple-step recombination event involving directly repeated sequences in the expression loci. The deletion explains the state of some P- cells, but not all. In the latter cells pilin expression is probably controlled by an undefined regulator.

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