Phosphorylcholine decoration of lipopolysaccharide differentiates commensal Neisseriae from pathogenic strains: identification of licA-type genes in commensal Neisseriae

Mol Microbiol. 2000 Mar;35(6):1550-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2000.01825.x.


Phosphorylcholine (ChoP) is a potential candidate for a plurispecific vaccine, because it is present on surface components of many mucosal organisms, including Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In addition, ChoP has been detected on pili of Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. In this study, we demonstrate the presence of the phosphorylcholine epitope on the lipopolysaccharides (LPSs) of several species of commensal Neisseriae (Cn), a property that differentiates commensal from the pathogenic strains of Neisseriae. In an extended survey of 78 strains, we confirmed the exclusive expression of the ChoP epitope on pili of pathogenic Neisseriae. Despite the presence of pili on Cn, which are homologous to Class II pili of N. meningitidis, they did not react with anti-ChoP antibody. This observation was further supported by the fact that 14C-labelled choline was incorporated only in the LPSs of Cn. Analysis of the LPS of N. lactamica strain NL4 revealed two distinct and interconvertible molecular species of LPS with high and low levels of reactivity with anti-ChoP antibody. In addition, on/off phase variation gave rise to frequent modulation in the levels of antibody reactivity. A concurrent modulation was also observed in the binding of C-reactive protein, CRP, a ChoP-binding reactant that is implicated in bacterial clearance. Genetic analysis showed the presence of a gene in several Cn spp. with significant sequence identity to H. influenzae licA. This gene encodes choline kinase and is also involved in phase variation of the LPS-associated ChoP in H. influenzae. In contrast, licA-like genes were not identified in the pathogenic Neisseria strains tested. They are absent from N. meningitidis strain Z2491 genome database. These data suggest that the genetic basis for ChoP incorporation in Cn LPS resembles that in H. influenzae spp. and may be distinct from that generating the ChoP epitope on pili of pathogenic Neisseriae. Further, the modulation of ChoP expression on Cn LPS, and corresponding modulation of CRP binding, has the potential to confer the property of immune avoidance and thus of persistence on mucosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibody Specificity
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Culture Media
  • Epitopes
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Lipopolysaccharides / chemistry*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neisseria / genetics*
  • Neisseria / immunology
  • Neisseria / pathogenicity*
  • Phosphorylcholine / immunology
  • Phosphorylcholine / metabolism*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Culture Media
  • Epitopes
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Phosphorylcholine
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Choline