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J Infect Dis. 1998 Feb;177(2):368-77.

Association of intrastrain phase variation in quantity of capsular polysaccharide and teichoic acid with the virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 19104, USA.


The pneumococcus undergoes spontaneous phase variation between an opaque and a transparent colony form. In an animal model of systemic infection following intraperitoneal inoculation of mice, the opaque phenotype was significantly more virulent than the transparent for each of 3 strains examined. The opaque phenotype was associated with 1.2- to 5.6-fold greater amounts of capsular polysaccharide compared with the transparent using a sandwich ELISA. A similar technique comparing the amount of total teichoic acid showed that the transparent phenotype had 2.1- to 3.8-fold more immunodetectable teichoic acid. This difference was confirmed by comparing the incorporation of [3H]choline into teichoic acid. Cell fractionation revealed that variation in quantity of incorporated choline was due to differences in cell wall-associated teichoic acid. Results suggest that the pneumococcus phase varies between a virulent form with more capsular polysaccharide and less teichoic acid and an avirulent form with less capsular polysaccharide and more teichoic acid.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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