July 19, 2019  |  

Analysis of recombinational switching at the antigenic variation locus of the Lyme spirochete using a novel PacBio sequencing pipeline.

The Lyme disease spirochete evades the host immune system by combinatorial variation of VlsE, a surface antigen. Antigenic variation occurs via segmental gene conversion from contiguous silent cassettes into the vlsE locus. Because of the high degree of similarity between switch variants and the size of vlsE, short-read NGS technologies have been unsuitable for sequencing vlsE populations. Here we use PacBio sequencing technology coupled with the first fully-automated software pipeline (VAST) to accurately process NGS data by minimizing error frequency, eliminating heteroduplex errors and accurately aligning switch variants. We extend earlier studies by showing use of almost all of the vlsE SNP repertoire. In different tissues of the same mouse, 99.6% of the variants were unique, suggesting that dissemination of Borrelia burgdorferi is predominantly unidirectional with little tissue-to-tissue hematogenous dissemination. We also observed a similar number of variants in SCID and wild-type mice, a heatmap of location and frequency of amino acid changes on the 3D structure and note differences observed in SCID versus wild type mice that hint at possible amino acid function. Our observed selection against diversification of residues at the dimer interface in wild-type mice strongly suggests that dimerization is required for in vivo functionality of vlsE.© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

July 7, 2019  |  

Mechanisms of surface antigenic variation in the human pathogenic fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii.

Microbial pathogens commonly escape the human immune system by varying surface proteins. We investigated the mechanisms used for that purpose by Pneumocystis jirovecii This uncultivable fungus is an obligate pulmonary pathogen that in immunocompromised individuals causes pneumonia, a major life-threatening infection. Long-read PacBio sequencing was used to assemble a core of subtelomeres of a single P. jirovecii strain from a bronchoalveolar lavage fluid specimen from a single patient. A total of 113 genes encoding surface proteins were identified, including 28 pseudogenes. These genes formed a subtelomeric gene superfamily, which included five families encoding adhesive glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored glycoproteins and one family encoding excreted glycoproteins. Numerical analyses suggested that diversification of the glycoproteins relies on mosaic genes created by ectopic recombination and occurs only within each family. DNA motifs suggested that all genes are expressed independently, except those of the family encoding the most abundant surface glycoproteins, which are subject to mutually exclusive expression. PCR analyses showed that exchange of the expressed gene of the latter family occurs frequently, possibly favored by the location of the genes proximal to the telomere because this allows concomitant telomere exchange. Our observations suggest that (i) the P. jirovecii cell surface is made of a complex mixture of different surface proteins, with a majority of a single isoform of the most abundant glycoprotein, (ii) genetic mosaicism within each family ensures variation of the glycoproteins, and (iii) the strategy of the fungus consists of the continuous production of new subpopulations composed of cells that are antigenically different.IMPORTANCEPneumocystis jirovecii is a fungus causing severe pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals. It is the second most frequent life-threatening invasive fungal infection. We have studied the mechanisms of antigenic variation used by this pathogen to escape the human immune system, a strategy commonly used by pathogenic microorganisms. Using a new DNA sequencing technology generating long reads, we could characterize the highly repetitive gene families encoding the proteins that are present on the cellular surface of this pest. These gene families are localized in the regions close to the ends of all chromosomes, the subtelomeres. Such chromosomal localization was found to favor genetic recombinations between members of each gene family and to allow diversification of these proteins continuously over time. This pathogen seems to use a strategy of antigenic variation consisting of the continuous production of new subpopulations composed of cells that are antigenically different. Such a strategy is unique among human pathogens. Copyright © 2017 Schmid-Siegert et al.

July 7, 2019  |  

Genetic diversity of O-antigens in Hafnia alvei and the development of a suspension array for serotype detection.

Hafnia alvei is a facultative and rod-shaped gram-negative bacterium that belongs to the Enterobacteriaceae family. Although it has been more than 50 years since the genus was identified, very little is known about variations among Hafnia species. Diversity in O-antigens (O-polysaccharide, OPS) is thought to be a major factor in bacterial adaptation to different hosts and situations and variability in the environment. Antigenic variation is also an important factor in pathogenicity that has been used to define clones within a number of species. The genes that are required to synthesize OPS are always clustered within the bacterial chromosome. A serotyping scheme including 39 O-serotypes has been proposed for H. alvei, but it has not been correlated with known OPS structures, and no previous report has described the genetic features of OPS. In this study, we obtained the genome sequences of 21 H. alvei strains (as defined by previous immunochemical studies) with different lipopolysaccharides. This is the first study to show that the O-antigen gene cluster in H. alvei is located between mpo and gnd in the chromosome. All 21 of the OPS gene clusters contain both the wzx gene and the wzy gene and display a large number of polymorphisms. We developed an O serotype-specific wzy-based suspension array to detect all 21 of the distinct OPS forms we identified in H. alvei. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report to identify the genetic features of H. alvei antigenic variation and to develop a molecular technique to identify and classify different serotypes.

July 7, 2019  |  

Structural basis for recombinatorial permissiveness in the generation of Anaplasma marginale Msp2 antigenic variants.

Sequential expression of outer membrane protein antigenic variants is an evolutionarily convergent mechanism used by bacterial pathogens to escape host immune clearance and establish persistent infection. Variants must be sufficiently structurally distinct to escape existing immune effectors yet retain core structural elements required for localization and function within the outer membrane. We examined this balance using Anaplasma marginale, which generates antigenic variants in the outer membrane protein Msp2 using gene conversion. The overwhelming majority of Msp2 variants expressed during long-term persistent infection are mosaics, derived by recombination of oligonucleotide segments from multiple alleles to form unique hypervariable regions (HVR). As a result, the mosaics are not under long-term selective pressure to encode a functional protein; consequently, we hypothesized that the Msp2 HVR is structurally permissive for mosaic expression. Using an integrated approach of predictive modeling with determination of native Msp2 protein structure and function, we demonstrate that structured elements, most notably ß-sheets, are significantly concentrated in the highly conserved N- and C-terminal domains. In contrast the HVR is overwhelmingly random coil with the structured a-helices and ß-sheets confined to the genomically defined “structural tethers” that separate the antigenically variable microdomains. This structure is supported by the surface exposure of the HVR microdomains and the slow diffusion type porin function in native Msp2. Importantly, the predominance of random coil provides plasticity for formation of functional HVR mosaics and realization of the full potential of segmental gene conversion to dramatically expand the variant repertoire. Copyright © 2016, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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