Multiple gonococcal opacity proteins are expressed during experimental urethral infection in the male.
The opacity (Opa) proteins of Neisseria gonorrhoeae are a family of outer membrane proteins demonstrating phase and antigenic variation. N. gonorrhoeae strain FA0190 has 11 opa loci that encode at least 8 antigenically distinct Opa proteins. To determine if expression of one Opa protein or a subset of them is favored during gonococcal infection, we inoculated Opa-negative variants of strain FA1090 intraurethrally into male volunteers. The Opa phenotype of gonococci isolated from urine and urethral swab cultures from nine infected subjects was determined. Opa proteins were expressed in a large proportion of the reisolates from the infected subjects. Gonococci cultured from urine or urethral swab samples from six of the subjects were uniformly Opa positive, with the predominant Opa variants differing among subjects. Three different Opa proteins were represented as the predominant type in at least one subject each. In three subjects, there was more heterogeneity in Opa phenotype of the reisolates, including the presence of Opa-negative variants. An increase in the proportion of isolates expressing multiple Opa proteins occurred over time in most subjects. Passage of the inoculum in vitro did not result in similar changes in Opa expression. There was no detectable difference in infectivity of an Opa-negative variant and one expressing an Opa protein (OpaF) that was highly represented in reisolates from the original nine subjects. Reisolates from three infected volunteers inoculated with the OpaF variant showed continued expression of OpaF alone or in conjunction with other Opa proteins. These results demonstrate that there is strong selection for expression of one or more Opa proteins by strain FA1090 in vivo, but that no single protein is preferentially expressed during early infection in the male urethra.
Jerse, AE; Cohen, MS; Drown, PM; Whicker, LG; Isbey, SF; Seifert, HS; Cannon, JG
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