Background: Recombinant forms of Neisseria meningitidis human factor H binding protein (fHBP) are undergoing clinical trials in candidate vaccines against invasive meningococcal serogroup B disease. We report an extensive survey and phylogenetic analysis of the diversity of fhbp genes and predicted protein sequences in invasive clinical isolates obtained in the period 2000-2006.
Methods: Nucleotide sequences of fhbp genes were obtained from 1837 invasive N. meningitidis serogroup B (MnB) strains from the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and South Africa. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) analysis was performed on a subset of the strains.
Results: Every strain contained the fhbp gene. All sequences fell into 1 of 2 subfamilies (A or B), with 60%-75% amino acid identity between subfamilies and at least 83% identity within each subfamily. One fHBP sequence may have arisen via inter-subfamily recombination. Subfamily B sequences were found in 70% of the isolates, and subfamily A sequences were found in 30%. Multiple fHBP variants were detected in each of the common MLST clonal complexes. All major MLST complexes include strains in both subfamily A and subfamily B.
Conclusions: The diversity of strains observed underscores the importance of studying the distribution of the vaccine antigen itself rather than relying on common epidemiological surrogates such as MLST.