Evolution of the paralogous hap and iga genes in Haemophilus influenzae: evidence for a conserved hap pseudogene associated with microcolony formation in the recently diverged Haemophilus aegyptius and H. influenzae biogroup aegyptius

Mol Microbiol. 2002 Dec;46(5):1367-80. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2002.03254.x.


Certain non-capsulate strains belonging to the Haemophilus influenzae/Haemophilus aegyptius complex show unusually high pathogenicity, but the evolutionary origin of these virulent phenotypes, termed H. influenzae biogroup aegyptius, is as yet unknown. The aim of the present study was to elucidate the mechanisms of evolution of two paralogous genes, hap and iga, which encode the adhesion and penetration Hap protein and the IgA1 protease respectively. Partial sequencing of hap and iga genes in a comprehensive collection of strains belonging to the H. influenzae/H. aegyptius complex revealed considerable genetic polymorphism and pronounced mosaic-like patterns in both genes, but no evidence of intrastrain recombination between the two genes. A conserved hap pseudogene was present in all strains of H. aegyptius and H. influenzae biogroup aegyptius, each of which constituted distinct subpopulations as revealed by phylogenetic analysis. There was no evidence for a second, functional copy of the hap gene in these strains. The perturbed expression of the Hap serine protease appears to be associated with the formation of elongated bacterial cells growing in chains and a distinct colonization pattern on conjunctival cells, previously termed microcolony formation. The fact that individual hap pseudogenes differed from the ancestral sequence by zero to two positions within a 1.5 kb stretch suggests that the silencing event happened approximately 2000-11,000 years ago. Divergence of H. aegyptius and H. influenzae biogroup aegyptius occurred subsequent to this genetic event. The loss of Hap protein expression may be one of the genetic events that facilitated exploitation of the conjunctivae as a new niche.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Conjunctiva / cytology
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Haemophilus / genetics*
  • Haemophilus / growth & development
  • Haemophilus / pathogenicity
  • Haemophilus influenzae / genetics*
  • Haemophilus influenzae / growth & development
  • Haemophilus influenzae / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Pseudogenes
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Serine Endopeptidases / genetics*


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Hap protein, Hemophilus influenzae
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • IgA-specific serine endopeptidase

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF517153