Phase variation of a beta-1,3 galactosyltransferase involved in generation of the ganglioside GM1-like lipo-oligosaccharide of Campylobacter jejuni

Mol Microbiol. 2000 Aug;37(3):501-14. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2000.02020.x.


Ganglioside mimicry by Campylobacter jejuni lipo-oligosaccharide (LOS) is thought to be a critical factor in the triggering of the Guillain-Barré and Miller-Fisher syndrome neuropathies after C. jejuni infection. The combination of a completed genome sequence and a ganglioside GM1-like LOS structure makes C. jejuni NCTC 11168 a useful model strain for the identification and characterization of the genes involved in the biosynthesis of ganglioside-mimicking LOS. Genome analysis identified a putative LOS biosynthetic cluster and, from this, we describe a putative gene (ORF Cj1139c), which we have termed wlaN, with a significant level of similarity to a number of bacterial glycosyltransferases. Mutation of this gene in C. jejuni NCTC 11168 resulted in a LOS molecule of increased electrophoretic mobility, which also failed to bind cholera toxin. Comparison of LOS structural data from wild type and the mutant strain indicated lack of a terminal beta-1,3-linked galactose residue in the latter. The wlaN gene product was demonstrated unambiguously as a beta-1,3 galactosyltransferase responsible for converting GM2-like LOS structures to GM1-like by in vitro expression. We also show that the presence of an intragenic homopolymeric tract renders the expression of a functional wlaN gene product phase variable, resulting in distinct C. jejuni NCTC 11168 cell populations with alternate GM1 or GM2 ganglioside-mimicking LOS structures. The distribution of wlaN among a number of C. jejuni strains with known LOS structure was determined and, for C. jejuni NCTC 12500, similar wlaN gene phase variation was shown to occur, so that this strain has the potential to synthesize a GM1-like LOS structure as well as the ganglioside GM2-like LOS structure proposed in the literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Campylobacter jejuni / metabolism*
  • G(M1) Ganglioside / metabolism*
  • Galactosyltransferases / genetics
  • Galactosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Alignment


  • G(M1) Ganglioside
  • Galactosyltransferases