Dialects of the DNA uptake sequence in Neisseriaceae

PLoS Genet. 2013 Apr;9(4):e1003458. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003458. Epub 2013 Apr 18.


In all sexual organisms, adaptations exist that secure the safe reassortment of homologous alleles and prevent the intrusion of potentially hazardous alien DNA. Some bacteria engage in a simple form of sex known as transformation. In the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis and in related bacterial species, transformation by exogenous DNA is regulated by the presence of a specific DNA Uptake Sequence (DUS), which is present in thousands of copies in the respective genomes. DUS affects transformation by limiting DNA uptake and recombination in favour of homologous DNA. The specific mechanisms of DUS-dependent genetic transformation have remained elusive. Bioinformatic analyses of family Neisseriaceae genomes reveal eight distinct variants of DUS. These variants are here termed DUS dialects, and their effect on interspecies commutation is demonstrated. Each of the DUS dialects is remarkably conserved within each species and is distributed consistent with a robust Neisseriaceae phylogeny based on core genome sequences. The impact of individual single nucleotide transversions in DUS on meningococcal transformation and on DNA binding and uptake is analysed. The results show that a DUS core 5'-CTG-3' is required for transformation and that transversions in this core reduce DNA uptake more than two orders of magnitude although the level of DNA binding remains less affected. Distinct DUS dialects are efficient barriers to interspecies recombination in N. meningitidis, N. elongata, Kingella denitrificans, and Eikenella corrodens, despite the presence of the core sequence. The degree of similarity between the DUS dialect of the recipient species and the donor DNA directly correlates with the level of transformation and DNA binding and uptake. Finally, DUS-dependent transformation is documented in the genera Eikenella and Kingella for the first time. The results presented here advance our understanding of the function and evolution of DUS and genetic transformation in bacteria, and define the phylogenetic relationships within the Neisseriaceae family.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neisseriaceae*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Transformation, Bacterial


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA

Grant support

The financial support from the Research Council of Norway (Centre of Excellence grant to Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience (CMBN) to TT) is greatly acknowledged. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.