Two pathogenic species within the genus Neisseria cause the diseases gonorrhoea and meningitis. While vaccines are available to protect against four N. meningitidis serogroups, there is currently no commercial vaccine to protect against serogroup B or against N. gonorrhoeae. Moreover, the available vaccines have significant limitations and with antibiotic resistance becoming an alarming issue, the search for effective vaccine targets to elicit long-lasting protection against Neisseria species is becoming more urgent. One strategy for vaccine development has targeted the neisserial iron import systems. Without iron, the Neisseriae cannot survive and, therefore, these iron import systems tend to be relatively well conserved and are promising vaccine targets, having the potential to offer broad protection against both gonococcal and meningococcal infections. These efforts have been boosted by recent reports of the crystal structures of the neisserial receptor proteins TbpA and TbpB, each solved in complex with human transferrin, an iron binding protein normally responsible for delivering iron to human cells. Here, we review the recent structural reports and put them into perspective with available functional studies in order to derive the mechanism(s) for how the pathogenic Neisseriae are able to hijack human iron transport systems for their own survival and pathogenesis.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.