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Crit Rev Microbiol. 1998;24(4):281-334.

Genetic basis for biosynthesis, structure, and function of meningococcal lipooligosaccharide (endotoxin).

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Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, USA.


The exclusive human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis expresses lipooligosaccharide (LOS), an endotoxin that is structurally distinct from the lipopolysaccharides (LPS) of enteric Gram-negative bacilli. Differences that appear to be biologically important occur in the composition and attachment of acyl chains to lipid A, phosphorylation patterns of lipid A, and the incorporation and phosphorylation of sugar residues in the LOS inner core. Further, unlike most enteric LPS, only two to five sugar residues are attached to the meningococcal LOS inner core, and there are no multiple repeating units of O-antigens. In contrast to Escherichia coli, where the LPS biosynthesis genes are organized as large operons, the meningococcal LOS biosynthesis genes are organized into small operons or are located individually in the chromosome. Some of these genetic loci in meningococci and gonococci display polymorphisms caused by localized chromosomal rearrangements. One mechanism of antigenic variation of meningococci LOS is the regulation of glycosyltransferase activity by slipped strand mispairing of homopolymeric tracts within the 5' end of the genes encoding these enzymes, resulting in the addition of different sugar residues to the LOS molecule. Meningococcal LOS is a critical virulence factor in N. meningitidis infections and is involved in many aspects of pathogenesis, including the colonization of the human nasopharynx, survival after bloodstream invasion, and the inflammation associated with the morbidity and mortality of meningococcemia and meningitis. Meningococcal LOS, which is a component of serogroup B meningococcal vaccines currently in clinical trials, has been proposed as a candidate for a new generation of meningococcal vaccines. The rapidly expanding knowledge of the genetic basis for biosynthesis, structure, and regulation of meningococcal LOS provides insights into unique endotoxin structures and the precise role of LOS in the pathogenesis of meningococcal disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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