Meningococcal carriage and disease--population biology and evolution.
Caugant DA., Maiden MCJ.
Meningococcal disease occurs worldwide with incidence rates varying from 1 to 1000 cases per 100,000. The causative organism, Neisseria meningitidis, is an obligate commensal of humans, which normally colonizes the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract without causing invasive disease, a phenomenon known as carriage. Studies using molecular methods have demonstrated the extensive genetic diversity of meningocococci isolated from carriers, in contrast to a limited number of genetic types, known as the hyperinvasive lineages, associated with invasive disease. Population and evolutionary models that invoke positive selection can be used to resolve the apparent paradox of virulent lineages persisting during the global spread of a non-clonal and normally commensal bacterium. The application of insights gained from studies of meningococcal population biology and evolution is important in understanding the spread of disease, as well as in vaccine development and implementation, especially with regard to the challenge of producing comprehensive vaccines based on sub-capsular antigens and measuring their effectiveness.