Neisseria meningitidis: biology, microbiology, and epidemiology

Methods Mol Biol. 2012:799:1-20. doi: 10.1007/978-1-61779-346-2_1.


Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) causes significant morbidity and mortality in children and young adults worldwide through epidemic or sporadic meningitis and/or septicemia. In this review, we describe the biology, microbiology, and epidemiology of this exclusive human pathogen. N.meningitidis is a fastidious, encapsulated, aerobic gram-negative diplococcus. Colonies are positive by the oxidase test and most strains utilize maltose. The phenotypic classification of meningococci, based on structural differences in capsular polysaccharide, lipooligosaccharide (LOS) and outer membrane proteins, is now complemented by genome sequence typing (ST). The epidemiological profile of N. meningitidis is variable in different populations and over time and virulence of the meningococcus is based on a transformable/plastic genome and expression of certain capsular polysaccharides (serogroups A, B, C, W-135, Y and X) and non-capsular antigens. N. meningitidis colonizes mucosal surfaces using a multifactorial process involving pili, twitching motility, LOS, opacity associated, and other surface proteins. Certain clonal groups have an increased capacity to gain access to the blood, evade innate immune responses, multiply, and cause systemic disease. Although new vaccines hold great promise, meningococcal infection continues to be reported in both developed and developing countries, where universal vaccine coverage is absent and antibiotic resistance increasingly more common.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Capsules / metabolism
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / epidemiology*
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / microbiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / classification
  • Neisseria meningitidis / genetics
  • Neisseria meningitidis / metabolism*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / pathogenicity
  • Neisseria meningitidis / physiology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Virulence