The strict human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae utilizes homologous recombination to antigenically vary the pilus, thus evading the host immune response. High-frequency gene conversion reactions between many silent pilin loci and the expressed pilin locus (pilE) allow for numerous pilus variants per strain to be produced from a single strain. For pilin antigenic variation (Av) to occur, a guanine quartet (G4) structure must form upstream of pilE. The RecQ helicase is one of several recombination or repair enzymes required for efficient levels of pilin Av, and RecQ family members have been shown to bind to and unwind G4 structures. Additionally, the vast majority of RecQ helicase family members encode one “helicase and RNase D C-terminal” (HRDC) domain, whereas the N. gonorrhoeae RecQ helicase gene encodes three HRDC domains, which are critical for pilin Av. Here, we confirm that deletion of RecQ HRDC domains 2 and 3 causes a decrease in the frequency of pilin Av comparable to that obtained with a functional knockout. We demonstrate that the N. gonorrhoeae RecQ helicase can bind and unwind the pilE G4 structure. Deletion of the RecQ HRDC domains 2 and 3 resulted in a decrease in G4 structure binding and unwinding. These data suggest that the decrease in pilin Av observed in the RecQ HRDC domain 2 and 3 deletion mutant is a result of the enzyme's inability to efficiently bind and unwind the pilE G4 structure.
The RecX protein inhibits RecA filament extension leading to net filament disassembly. The RecF protein physically interacts with the RecX protein and protects RecA from the inhibitory effects of RecX. In vitro, efficient RecA filament formation onto SSB-coated circular single-stranded DNA in the presence of RecX occurs only when all of the RecFOR proteins are present. The RecOR proteins contribute only to RecA filament nucleation onto SSB-coated single-stranded DNA and are unable to counter the inhibitory effects of RecX on RecA filaments. RecF protein uniquely supports substantial RecA filament extension in the presence of RecX. In vivo, RecF protein counters a RecX-mediated inhibition of plasmid recombination. Thus, a significant positive contribution of RecF to RecA filament assembly is to antagonize the effects of the negative modulator, RecX, specifically during the extension phase.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae is an obligate human pathogen that can escape immune surveillance through antigenic variation of surface structures such as pili. A G-quadruplex-forming (G4) sequence (5´-G3TG3TTG3TG3) located upstream of the N. gonorrhoeae pilin expression locus (pilE) is necessary for initiation of pilin antigenic variation, a recombination-based, high-frequency, diversity-generation system. We have determined NMR-based structures of the all-parallel-stranded monomeric and novel 5´-end-stacked dimeric pilE G-quadruplexes in monovalent cation-containing solutions. We demonstrate that the three-layered all-parallel-stranded monomeric pilE G-quadruplex containing single residue double-chain-reversal loops, that can be modeled without steric clashes into the three-nucleotide DNA-binding site of RecA, binds and promotes E. coli RecA mediated strand exchange in vitro. We discuss how interactions between RecA and monomeric pilE G-quadruplex could facilitate the specialized recombination reactions leading to pilin diversification.
Natural transformation is the main means of horizontal genetic exchange in the obligate human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Neisseria spp. have been shown to preferentially take up and transform their own DNA by recognizing a non-palindromic 10 or 12 nucleotide DNA uptake sequence (DUS10 or DUS12). We investigated the ability of the DUS12 to enhance single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) transformation. Given the non-palindromic nature of the DUS12, we tested whether both strands of the DUS equally enhance transformation. Recombinant single-stranded M13 phage harboring transforming DNA with the Watson DUS12, the Crick DUS12, or no DUS (DUS0) were constructed and circular ssDNA was purified. Southern blots of the purified DNA probed with strand-specific oligonucleotide probes showed greater than 10,000:1 ratio of ssDNA to contaminating dsDNA. The Crick strand of the DUS12 enhanced ssDNA transformation 180–470 fold over DUS0 ssDNA whereas the Watson strand of the DUS only modestly enhanced ssDNA transformation in two strains of N. gonorrhoeae. These data confirm that ssDNA efficiently transforms N. gonorrhoeae but that there is a strand preference, and that part of this strand preference is a greater efficiency of the Crick strand of the DUS12 in enhancing transformation.
genetic exchange; pathogen; recombination
Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the causative agent of gonorrhea and an obligate pathogen of humans. The Opa proteins of these bacteria are known to mediate attachment and internalization by host cells, including neutrophils. The Opa protein repertoire of a typical N. gonorrhoeae isolate is encoded on ∼11 genes distributed throughout the chromosome and is subject to stochastic changes in expression through phase variation. Together, these characteristics make Opa proteins a critical yet unpredictable aspect of any experimental investigation into the interaction of N. gonorrhoeae with host cells. The goal of this study was to identify novel virulence factors of N. gonorrhoeae by assessing the contribution of a set of uncharacterized hydrogen peroxide-induced genes to bacterial survival against neutrophil-mediated killing. To this end, a strain harboring an engineered mutation in the NGO0322 gene was identified that exhibited increased sensitivity to neutrophil-mediated killing, enhanced internalization by neutrophils, and the ability to induce high levels of neutrophil-generated reactive oxygen species. Each of these phenotypes reverted to near wild-type levels following genetic complementation of the NGO0322 mutation. However, after immunoblot analysis of Opa proteins expressed by the isogenic parent, mutant, and genetically complemented strains, it was determined that phase variation had resulted in a disparity between the Opa profiles of these strains. To determine whether Opa phase variation, rather than NGO0322 mutation, was the cause of the observed neutrophil-related phenotypes, NGO0322 function was investigated in N. gonorrhoeae strains lacking all Opa proteins or constitutively expressing the OpaD variant. In both cases, mutation of NGO0322 did not alter survival of gonococci in the presence of neutrophils. These results demonstrate the importance of controlling for the frequent and random variation in Opa protein production by N. gonorrhoeae when investigating host cell interactions.
The sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea is caused exclusively by the human-specific pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Type IV pili are an essential virulence factor uniformly expressed on clinical gonococcal isolates and are required for several aspects of gonococcal pathogenesis, including adherence to host tissues, autoagglutination, twitching motility, and the uptake of DNA during transformation. Symptomatic gonococcal infection is characterized by the influx of neutrophils or polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) to the site of infection. PMNs are a key component of gonococcal pathogenesis, mediating the innate immune response through the use of oxidative and nonoxidative killing mechanisms. The M23B family zinc metallopeptidase NGO1686 is required for gonococci to survive oxidative killing by H2O2- and PMN-mediated killing through unknown mechanisms, but the only known target of NGO1686 is peptidoglycan. We report that the effect of NGO1686 on survival after exposure to H2O2 and PMNs is mediated through its role in elaborating pili and that nonpiliated mutants of N. gonorrhoeae are less resistant to killing by H2O2, LL-37, and PMNs than the corresponding piliated strains. These findings add to the various virulence-associated functions attributable to gonococcal pili and may explain the selection basis for piliation in clinical isolates of N. gonorrhoeae.
Successful infectious agents need to overcome host defense systems to establish infection. We show that the Neisseria pilus, a major virulence factor of this organism, which causes gonorrhea, helps protect the bacterium from two major killing mechanisms used by the host to combat infections. We also show that to express the pilus, an enzyme needs to partially degrade the cell wall of the bacterium.
Pathogenic microorganisms employ numerous molecular strategies in order to delay or circumvent recognition by the immune system of their host. One of the most widely used strategies of immune evasion is antigenic variation, in which immunogenic molecules expressed on the surface of a microorganism are continuously modified. As a consequence, the host is forced to constantly adapt its humoral immune response against this pathogen. An antigenic change thus provides the microorganism with an opportunity to persist and/or replicate within the host (population) for an extended period of time or to effectively infect a previously infected host. In most cases, antigenic variation is caused by genetic processes that lead to modification of the amino acid sequence of a particular antigen or to alterations in the expression of biosynthesis genes that induce changes in expression of a variant antigen. Here, we will review antigenic variation systems that rely on homologous DNA recombination and which are found in a wide range of cellular, human pathogens, including bacteria (such as Neisseria spp., Borrelia spp., Treponema pallidum and Mycoplasma spp.), fungi (like Pneumocystis carinii) and parasites (such as the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei). Specifically, the various DNA recombination-based antigenic variation systems will be discussed with a focus on the employed mechanisms of recombination, the DNA substrates, and the enzymatic machinery involved.
gene conversion; Mycoplasma; Neisseria; Pneumocystis; Treponema; Trypanosoma
Horizontal gene transfer is an important mechanism for generating genetic diversity. As the number of sequenced genomes continues to increase, so do the examples of horizontal genetic exchange between both related and divergent organisms. Here we discuss the recent finding that certain strains of the human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae have incorporated a small fragment of human DNA sequence into their genomes. The horizontally acquired sequence exhibits 98–100% nucleotide identity to a 685 bp portion of the highly repetitive retrotransposable element L1 and its presence in the gonococcal genome has been confirmed by multiple molecular techniques. The possibility of similar L1 horizontal gene transfer events having occurred in other bacteria based on genomic sequence evidence is explored. Potential mechanisms of how N. gonorrhoeae was able to acquire and maintain this human sequence are also discussed in addition to the evolutionary implications of such an event.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae; horizontal gene transfer; LINE; L1
The acquisition and incorporation of genetic material between nonmating species, or horizontal gene transfer (HGT), has been frequently described for phylogenetically related organisms, but far less evidence exists for HGT between highly divergent organisms. Here we report the identification and characterization of a horizontally transferred fragment of the human long interspersed nuclear element L1 to the genome of the strictly human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae. A 685-bp sequence exhibiting 98 to 100% identity to copies of the human L1 element was identified adjacent to the irg4 gene in some N. gonorrhoeae genomes. The L1 fragment was observed in ~11% of the N. gonorrhoeae population sampled but was not detected in Neisseria meningitidis or commensal Neisseria isolates. In addition, N. gonorrhoeae transcripts containing the L1 sequence were detected by reverse transcription-PCR, indicating that an L1-derived gene product may be produced. The high degree of identity between human and gonococcal L1 sequences, together with the absence of L1 sequences from related Neisseria species, indicates that this HGT event occurred relatively recently in evolutionary history. The identification of L1 sequences in N. gonorrhoeae demonstrates that HGT can occur between a mammalian host and a resident bacterium, which has important implications for the coevolution of both humans and their associated microorganisms.
The interactions between microbes and their hosts are relevant to several aspects of biology, including evolution, development, immunity, and disease. Neisseria gonorrhoeae serves as a particularly informative model for this interaction because it has exclusively coevolved with humans and is not known to be found in any other environment. In addition, investigation of the evolutionary relationship between N. gonorrhoeae and humans has practical implications, since gonorrhea is a prevalent sexually transmitted infection worldwide. This study was undertaken to characterize the horizontal transfer of genetic information from humans to N. gonorrhoeae, an event that has been scarcely recognized between any mammalian host and bacterial pathogen. Here we provide evidence that this genetic exchange was the result of a recent evolutionary event that has been propagated within the gonococcal population.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are Gram-negative bacterial pathogens that are exquisitely adapted for growth at human mucosal surfaces and for efficient transmission between hosts. One factor that is essential to neisserial pathogenesis is the interaction between the bacteria and neutrophils, which are recruited in high numbers during infection. Although this vigorous host response could simply reflect effective immune recognition of the bacteria, there is mounting evidence that in fact these obligate human pathogens manipulate the innate immune response to promote infectious processes. This Review summarizes the mechanisms used by pathogenic neisseriae to resist and modulate the antimicrobial activities of neutrophils. It also details some of the major outstanding questions about the Neisseria–neutrophil relationship and proposes potential benefits of this relationship for the pathogen.
The strict human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae can utilize homologous recombination to generate antigenic variability in targets of immune surveillance. To evade the host immune response, N. gonorrhoeae promotes high frequency gene conversion events between many silent pilin copies and the expressed pilin locus (pilE), resulting in the production of variant pilin proteins. Previously, we identified a guanine quartet (G4) structure localized near pilE that is required for the homologous recombination reactions leading to pilin antigenic variation (Av). In this work, we demonstrate that inactivating the promoter of a small non-coding RNA (sRNA) that initiates within the G4 forming sequence blocks pilin Av. The sRNA promoter is conserved in all sequenced gonococcal strains, and mutations in the predicted transcript downstream of the G4 forming sequence do not alter pilin Av. A mutation that produces a stronger promoter or substitution of the pilE G4-associated sRNA promoter with a phage promoter (when the phage polymerase was expressed) produced wild-type levels of pilin Av. Altering the direction and orientation of the pilE G4-associated sRNA disrupted pilin Av. In addition, expression of the sRNA at a distal site on the gonococcal chromosome in the context of a promoter mutant did not support pilin Av. We conclude that the DNA containing the G-rich sequence can only form the G4 structure during transcription of this sRNA, thus providing a unique molecular step for the initiation of programmed recombination events.
To evade the host immune response, pathogens have evolved mechanisms to provide genetic diversity in targets of immune surveillance. Organisms that express these diversification systems are under strong evolutionary pressure to provide subpopulations of preexisting variants and often rely on cellular recombination machinery to catalyze dedicated high-frequency reactions without disturbing genome integrity. Previously, we defined a guanine quartet (G4) structure in the strict human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae that is required for initiating the homologous recombination reactions leading to pilin antigenic variation (Av). G4 structures have been implicated in many biological processes, however the mechanisms allowing their formation within a chromosome have not been elucidated. In this work, we show a direct link between transcription of a small RNA (sRNA) that initiates within the G4 structure forming sequence and pilin Av and conclude that the process of transcription is necessary for G4 structure formation. sRNAs have emerged as important regulatory molecules in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes, and this is a novel activity of a sRNA in a bacterium. We anticipate that the reliance of G4 structure formation on transcription is a mechanism used by other biological systems that rely on this alternative DNA structure.
Some pathogenic microbes utilize homologous recombination to generate antigenic variability in targets of immune surveillance. These specialized systems rely on the cellular recombination machinery to catalyze dedicated, high-frequency reactions that provide extensive diversity in the genes encoding surface antigens. A description of the specific mechanisms that allow unusually high rates of recombination without deleterious effects on the genome in the well characterized pilin antigenic variation systems of Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis is presented. We will also draw parallels to selected bacterial and eukaryotic antigenic variation systems, and suggest the most pressing unanswered questions related to understanding these important processes.
Neisseria; pili; antigenic variation; recombination; gene conversion
The human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae recruits and interacts extensively with polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) during infection. N. gonorrhoeae is able to survive the bactericidal activity of these innate immune cells and can actively modulate PMN functions in vitro. PMNs are short-lived cells which readily undergo apoptosis, and thus the effect of N. gonorrhoeae infection on PMN survival has implications for whether PMNs might serve as an important site of bacterial replication during infection. We developed and validated an HL-60 myeloid leukemia cell culture model for PMN infection and used both these cells and primary PMNs to show that N. gonorrhoeae infection alone does not induce apoptosis and furthermore that N. gonorrhoeae can inhibit both spontaneous apoptosis and apoptosis induced by the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptosis inducers staurosporine (STS) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), respectively. N. gonorrhoeae infection also results in the activation of NF-κB signaling in neutrophils and induces secretion of an identical profile of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines in both HL-60 cells and primary PMNs. Our data show that the HL-60 cell line can be used to effectively model N. gonorrhoeae-PMN interactions and that N. gonorrhoeae actively inhibits apoptosis induced by multiple stimuli to prolong PMN survival and potentially facilitate bacterial survival, replication, and transmission.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gc) is an obligate human pathogen and the causative agent of the sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea. Despite the fact that the gonococcus is not normally exposed to UV irradiation or visible light, the bacterium expresses a phrB orthologue which in other organisms encodes a DNA photolyase that repairs UV-induced pyrimidine dimers with energy provided by visible light. We show that a Gc phrB mutant is not more sensitive to UV irradiation, independent of visible light exposure, and that the Gc phrB cannot complement an Escherichia coli phrB mutant strain. The Gc phrB mutant had a reduced colony size that was not a result of a growth defect and the mutant cells exhibited an altered morphology. Although the phrB mutant exhibited increased sensitivity to oxidative killing; it showed increased survival on media containing nalidixic acid or rifampicin, but did not have an increased mutation rate to these antibiotics or spectinomycin and kasugamycin. The Gc phrB mutant showed increased negative DNA supercoiling, but while the protein bound double-stranded DNA, it did not express topoisomerase activity. We conclude that the Gc PhrB has a previously unrecognized role in maintaining DNA supercoiling that is important for normal cell physiology.
Gonorrhea; Neisseria; photolyase; supercoiling; DNA repair; oxidative damage
Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a human-specific organism that is not usually exposed to UV light or chemicals but is likely to encounter reactive oxygen species during infection. Exposure of N. gonorrhoeae to sublethal hydrogen peroxide revealed that the ng1427 gene was up regulated 6-fold (Stohl et al., 2005). N. gonorrhoeae was thought to lack an SOS system, although NG1427 shows amino acid sequence similarity to the SOS response regulator LexA from E. coli. Similar to LexA and other S24 peptidases, NG1427 undergoes autoproteolysis in vitro, which is facilitated by either the gonococcal or E. coli RecA proteins or high pH, and autoproteolysis requires the active and cleavage site residues conserved between LexA and NG1427. NG1427 controls a three gene regulon: itself; ng1428, a Neisseria-specific, putative integral membrane protein; and recN, a DNA repair gene known to be required for oxidative damage survival. Full NG1427 regulon de-repression requires RecA following methyl methanesulfonate or mitomycin C treatment, but is largely RecA-independent following hydrogen peroxide treatment. NG1427 binds specifically to the operator regions of the genes it controls, and DNA-binding is abolished by oxidation of the single cysteine residue encoded in NG1427. We propose that NG1427 is inactivated independently of RecA by oxidation.
Natural transformation is the main means of horizontal genetic exchange in the obligate human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Neisseria spp. have been shown to preferentially take up and transform their own DNA by recognizing the nonpalindromic 10- or 12-nucleotide sequence 5′-ATGCCGTCTGAA-3′ (additional semiconserved nucleotides are underlined), termed the DNA uptake sequence (DUS10 or DUS12). Here we investigated the effects of the DUS on transformation and DNA uptake for several laboratory strains of N. gonorrhoeae. We found that all strains showed efficient transformation of DUS containing DNA (DUS10 and DUS12) but that the level of transformation with DNA lacking a DUS (DUS0) was variable in different strains. The DUS-enhanced transformation was 20-fold in two strains, FA1090 and FA19, but was approximately 150-fold in strains MS11 and 1291. All strains tested provide some level of DUS0 transformation, and DUS0 transformation was type IV pilus dependent. Competition with plasmid DNA revealed that transformation of MS11 was enhanced by the addition of excess plasmid DNA containing a DUS while FA1090 transformation was competitively inhibited. Although FA1090 was able to mediate much more efficient transformation of DNA lacking a DUS than was MS11, DNA uptake experiments showed similar levels of uptake of DNA containing and lacking a DUS in FA1090 and MS11. Finally, DNA uptake was competitively inhibited in both FA1090 and MS11. Taken together, our data indicate that the role of the DUS during DNA transformation is variable between strains of N. gonorrhoeae and may influence multiple steps during transformation.
The rates of pilin antigenic variation (Av) of two strains of Neisseria meningitidis were determined using an unbiased DNA sequencing assay. Strain MC58 underwent pilin Av at a rate similar to that of N. gonorrhoeae strain MS11 but lower than that of N. gonorrhoeae strain FA1090. Pilin Av was undetectable in strain FAM18.
Neisseria meningitidis is a human-specific pathogen with capacity to cause septic shock and meningitis. It has been hypothesized that invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) is a complication of a bacteremic condition. In this study, we aimed to characterize the invasion route of N. meningitidis to the CNS. Using an intranasally challenged mouse disease model, we found that twenty percent of the mice developed lethal meningitis even though no bacteria could be detected in blood. Upon bacterial infection, epithelial lesions and redistribution of intracellular junction protein N-cadherin were observed at the nasal epithelial mucosa, especially at the olfactory epithelium, which is functionally and anatomically connected to the CNS. Bacteria were detected in the submucosa of the olfactory epithelium, along olfactory nerves in the cribriform plate, at the olfactory bulb and subsequently at the meninges and subarachnoid space. Furthermore, our data suggest that a threshold level of bacteremia is required for the development of meningococcal sepsis. Taken together, N. meningitidis is able to pass directly from nasopharynx to meninges through the olfactory nerve system. This study enhances our understanding how N. meningitidis invades the meninges. The nasal olfactory nerve system may be a novel target for disease prevention that can improve outcome and survival.
The physical properties of most bacterial genomes are largely unexplored. We have previously demonstrated that the strict human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae is polyploid, carrying an average of three chromosome copies per cell and only maintaining one pair of replication forks per chromosome (D. M. Tobiason and H. S. Seifert, PLos Biol. 4:1069-1078, 2006). We are following up this initial report to test several predictions of the polyploidy model of gonococcal chromosome organization. We demonstrate that the N. gonorrhoeae chromosomes exist solely as monomers and not covalently linked dimers, and in agreement with the monomer status, we show that distinct nucleoid regions can be detected by electron microscopy. Two different approaches to isolate heterozygous N. gonorrhoeae resulted in the formation of merodiploids, showing that even with more than one chromosome copy, these bacteria are genetically haploid. We show that the closely related bacterium Neisseria meningitidis is also polyploid, while the commensal organism Neisseria lactamica maintains chromosomes in single copy. We conclude that the pathogenic Neisseria strains are homozygous diploids.
Nucleotide excision repair (NER) is universally used to recognize and remove many types of DNA damage. In eubacteria, the NER system typically consists of UvrA, UvrB, UvrC, the UvrD helicase, DNA polymerase I, and ligase. In addition, when DNA damage blocks transcription, transcription-repair coupling factor (TRCF), the product of the mfd gene, recruits the Uvr complex to repair the damage. Previous work using selected mutants and assays have indicated that pathogenic Neisseria spp. carry a functional NER system. In order to comprehensively examine the role of NER in Neisseria gonorrhoeae DNA recombination and repair processes, the predicted NER genes (uvrA, uvrB, uvrC, uvrD, and mfd) were each disrupted by a transposon insertion, and the uvrB and uvrD mutants were complemented with a copy of each gene in an ectopic locus. Each uvr mutant strain was highly sensitive to UV irradiation and also showed sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide killing, confirming that all of the NER genes in N. gonorrhoeae are functional. The effect of RecA expression on UV survival was minor in uvr mutants but much larger in the mfd mutant. All of the NER mutants demonstrated wild-type levels of pilin antigenic variation and DNA transformation. However, the uvrD mutant exhibited higher frequencies of PilC-mediated pilus phase variation and spontaneous mutation, a finding consistent with a role for UvrD in mismatch repair. We conclude that NER functions are conserved in N. gonorrhoeae and are important for the DNA repair capabilities of this strict human pathogen.
The mismatch correction (MMC) system repairs DNA mismatches and single nucleotide insertions or deletions postreplication. To test the functions of MMC in the obligate human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae, homologues of the core MMC genes mutS and mutL were inactivated in strain FA1090. No mutH homologue was found in the FA1090 genome, suggesting that gonococcal MMC is not methyl directed. MMC mutants were compared to a mutant in uvrD, the helicase that functions with MMC in Escherichia coli. Inactivation of MMC or uvrD increased spontaneous resistance to rifampin and nalidixic acid, and MMC/uvrD double mutants exhibited higher mutation frequencies than any single mutant. Loss of MMC marginally enhanced the transformation efficiency of DNA carrying a single nucleotide mismatch but not that of DNA with a 1-kb insertion. Unlike the exquisite UV sensitivity of the uvrD mutant, inactivating MMC did not affect survival after UV irradiation. MMC and uvrD mutants exhibited increased PilC-dependent pilus phase variation. mutS-deficient gonococci underwent an increased frequency of pilin antigenic variation, whereas uvrD had no effect. Recombination tracts in the mutS pilin variants were longer than in parental gonococci but utilized the same donor pilS loci. These results show that gonococcal MMC repairs mismatches and small insertion/deletions in DNA and also affects the recombination events underlying pilin antigenic variation. The differential effects of MMC and uvrD in gonococci unexpectedly reveal that MMC can function independently of uvrD in this human-specific pathogen.
Disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a hallmark event in the pathophysiology of bacterial meningitis. Several inflammatory mediators, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), nitric oxide and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), contribute to this disruption. Here we show that infection of human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMEC) with Neisseria meningitidis induced an increase of permeability at prolonged time of infection. This was paralleled by an increase in MMP-8 activity in supernatants collected from infected cells. A detailed analysis revealed that MMP-8 was involved in the proteolytic cleavage of the tight junction protein occludin, resulting in its disappearance from the cell periphery and cleavage to a lower-sized 50-kDa protein in infected HBMEC. Abrogation of MMP-8 activity by specific inhibitors as well as transfection with MMP-8 siRNA abolished production of the cleavage fragment and occludin remained attached to the cell periphery. In addition, MMP-8 affected cell adherence to the underlying matrix. A similar temporal relationship was observed for MMP activity and cell detachment. Injury of the HBMEC monolayer suggested the requirement of direct cell contact because no detachment was observed when bacteria were placed above a transwell membrane or when bacterial supernatant was directly added to cells. Inhibition of MMP-8 partially prevented detachment of infected HBMEC and restored BBB permeability. Together, we established that MMP-8 activity plays a crucial role in disassembly of cell junction components and cell adhesion during meningococcal infection.
A crucial step in the pathogenesis of bacterial meningitis is the disturbance of cerebral microvascular endothelial function, resulting in blood-brain barrier (BBB) breakdown. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have been implicated in BBB damage in bacterial meningitis in several studies. MMPs are a family of zinc-dependent endopeptidases that catalyze the proteolysis of extracellular matrix proteins, but can also cleave a range of other molecules, including cell adhesion molecules. In this study we showed that brain endothelial cells produced MMPs—in particular MMP-8—upon infection with Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium that causes meningitis and septic shock. We found that MMP-8 was then involved in disruption of the tight junction protein occludin. In addition to the effect of MMP-8 on the tight junction component, MMP-8 activity also accounted for brain endothelial cell detachment that occurred during prolonged time of infection with N. meningitidis. When we inhibited MMP-8 activity, occludin disruption was completely abolished and cell detachment could be partially prevented, which resulted in restored BBB permeability. Our data reveal a molecular mechanism of cellular dysfunction during meningococcal meningitis that enhances our understanding how MMPs affect cerebral endothelial function and that can aid in our understanding and prevention of this disease.
Type IV pilus expression has been strongly implicated in the virulence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the causative agent of gonorrhea. In Neisseria, these pili undergo frequent antigenic variation (Av), which is presumed to allow reinfection of high-risk groups. Pilin Av is the result of RecA-mediated recombination events between the gene encoding the major pilin subunit (pilE) and multiple silent pilin locus (pilS) copies, utilizing a RecF-like recombination pathway. The role of RecBCD in pilin Av has been controversial. Previous studies measuring pilin Av in recB and recD mutants in two independent strains of N. gonorrhoeae (MS11 and FA1090) by indirect methods yielded conflicting results. In addition, these two laboratory strains have been suggested to express very different DNA repair capabilities. We show that the FA1090 and MS11 parental strains have similar abilities to repair DNA damage via UV-induced DNA damage, nalidixic acid-induced double-strand breaks, and methyl methanesulfonate-induced alkylation and that RecB and RecD are involved in the repair of these lesions. To test the role of the RecBCD pathway in pilin Av, the rate and frequency of pilin Av were directly measured by sequencing the pilE locus in randomly selected piliated progeny of both MS11 and FA1090 in recB and recD mutants. Our results definitively show that recB and recD mutants undergo pilin Av at rates similar to those of the parents in both strain backgrounds, demonstrating that efficient pilin Av is neither enhanced nor inhibited by the RecBCD complex.
Pathogens can utilize DNA recombination to promote antigenic variation of surface structures to avoid immune detection. We identified a cis-acting DNA sequence near the antigenically variable pilin locus of the human pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This 16 base pair G-rich sequence was required for pilin antigenic variation and formed a guanine quartet (G4) structure in vitro. Individual mutations that disrupted the structure also blocked pilin antigenic variation and prevented nicks required for recombination from occurring within the G4 region. A compound that binds and stabilizes G4 structures also inhibited pilin antigenic variation and prevented nicks from occurring on the G-rich strand. This site constitutes a recombination initiation sequence/structure that directs gene conversion to a specific chromosomal locus.