A gonococcal porA pseudogene: implications for understanding the evolution and pathogenicity of Neisseria gonorrhoeae

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Members of the genus Neisseria, including the human pathogens Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, express at least one member of a family of related porins. N. meningitidis is the only species known to express a second porin, the meningococcal serosubtyping antigen PorA, the most divergent member of this family. Unexpectedly, a porA gene was identified in the gonococcal genome. Both the gonococcal and meningococcal porA loci were adjacent to a homologue of the Escherichia coli greA gene, although the IS1106 element downstream of porA in some meningococci was absent in the gonococcus. Almost identical porA loci were present in four unrelated gonococcal isolates and clinical specimens from patients with gonorrhoea. Lack of PorA expression in the gonococcus resulted from mutations in the promoter region, which prevented transcription, and frameshift mutations in the coding region of the porA gene. Hybridization and amplification experiments, showing the absence of a porA gene in seven other Neisseria species, suggested that porA was acquired by a common ancestor of the gonococcus and meningococcus but inactivated in the gonococcus on speciation. This implies that, while advantageous during colonization of the upper respiratory tract, this protein has no function in, or hinders, colonization of the urogenital tract.

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