Antigenic diversity of meningococcal outer membrane protein PorA has implications for epidemiological analysis and vaccine design.
Feavers IM., Fox AJ., Gray S., Jones DM., Maiden MC.
The currently used serological subtyping scheme for the pathogen Neisseria meningitidis is not comprehensive, a proportion of isolates are reported as not subtypeable (NST), and few isolates are fully characterized with two subtypes for each strain. To establish the reasons for this and to assess the effectiveness of DNA-based subtyping schemes, dot blot hybridization and nucleotide sequence analyses were used to characterize the genes encoding antigenic variants of the meningococcal subtyping antigen, the PorA protein. A total of 233 strains, including 174 serologically NST and 59 partially or completely subtyped meningococcal strains, were surveyed. The NST isolates were chosen to be temporally and geographically representative of NST strains, isolated in England and Wales, and submitted to the Meningococcal Reference Unit in the period 1989 to 1991. The DNA-based analyses demonstrated that all of the strains examined possessed a porA gene. Some of these strains were serologically NST because of a lack of monoclonal antibodies against certain PorA epitopes; in other cases, strains expressed minor variants of known PorA epitopes that did not react with monoclonal antibodies in serological assays. Lack of expression remained a possible explanation for serological typing failure in some cases. These findings have important implications for epidemiological analysis and vaccine design and demonstrate the need for genetic characterization, rather than phenotypic characterization using monoclonal antibodies, for the identification of meningococcal strains.