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Mol Microbiol. 1995 Aug;17(3):555-64.

Identification and characterization of a cell envelope protein of Haemophilus influenzae contributing to phase variation in colony opacity and nasopharyngeal colonization.

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Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


Haemophilus influenzae undergoes spontaneous phase variation in colony morphology. Organisms from transparent colonies efficiently colonize the nasopharynx in an infant rat model of H. influenzae carriage, whereas organisms from more opaque colonies are deficient at colonization. A genetic approach relying on the transformability of H. influenzae was used to identify a locus contributing to opacity variation. By screening a library of chomosomal DNA from an opaque variant of strain Rd, it was possible to isolate a single clone capable of transforming a transparent Rd host to a more opaque phenotype. A region containing two genes, designated oapA and oapB, was identified. The deduced amino acid sequence of oapB has similarity to a consensus sequence for bacterial lipoproteins. Genetically defined mutations in oapA were transformed into the transparent Rd to confirm that this gene is required for expression of the transparent colony phenotype. Although oapA lacks a signal sequence, gene fusions to phoA show that OapA is secreted in H. influenzae and undergoes phase variation in expression. Mutagenesis of oapA in strain Rd, and type b strain Eagan, resulted in loss of the ability to colonize the nasopharynx of infant rats. The type b mutant, however, was as virulent as its parent strain when inoculated intraperitoneally. This suggests that the contribution of OapA to pathogenesis is limited to events associated with colonization of the mucosal surface.

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