Phase variable O antigen biosynthetic genes control expression of the major protective antigen and bacteriophage receptor in Vibrio cholerae O1

PLoS Pathog. 2012 Sep;8(9):e1002917. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002917. Epub 2012 Sep 13.


The Vibrio cholerae lipopolysaccharide O1 antigen is a major target of bacteriophages and the human immune system and is of critical importance for vaccine design. We used an O1-specific lytic bacteriophage as a tool to probe the capacity of V. cholerae to alter its O1 antigen and identified a novel mechanism by which this organism can modulate O antigen expression and exhibit intra-strain heterogeneity. We identified two phase variable genes required for O1 antigen biosynthesis, manA and wbeL. manA resides outside of the previously recognized O1 antigen biosynthetic locus, and encodes for a phosphomannose isomerase critical for the initial step in O1 antigen biosynthesis. We determined that manA and wbeL phase variants are attenuated for virulence, providing functional evidence to further support the critical role of the O1 antigen for infectivity. We provide the first report of phase variation modulating O1 antigen expression in V. cholerae, and show that the maintenance of these phase variable loci is an important means by which this facultative pathogen can generate the diverse subpopulations of cells needed for infecting the host intestinal tract and for escaping predation by an O1-specific phage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteriophages / physiology*
  • Cholera / microbiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology
  • Mannose-6-Phosphate Isomerase / genetics
  • Mice
  • O Antigens / biosynthesis
  • O Antigens / genetics*
  • Polymyxin B / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Virus / genetics*
  • Vibrio cholerae O1 / genetics*
  • Vibrio cholerae O1 / immunology*
  • Vibrio cholerae O1 / metabolism
  • Vibrio cholerae O1 / pathogenicity
  • Vibrio cholerae O1 / virology


  • O Antigens
  • Receptors, Virus
  • Mannose-6-Phosphate Isomerase
  • Polymyxin B