Contrasting within- and between-host immune selection shapes Neisseria Opa repertoires

Sci Rep. 2014 Oct 9:4:6554. doi: 10.1038/srep06554.


Pathogen evolution is influenced strongly by the host immune response. Previous studies of the effects of herd immunity on the population structure of directly transmitted, short-lived pathogens have primarily focused on the impact of competition for hosts. In contrast, for long-lived infections like HIV, theoretical work has focused on the mechanisms promoting antigenic variation within the host. In reality, successful transmission requires that pathogens balance both within- and between-host immune selection. The Opa adhesins in the bacterial Neisseria genus provide a unique system to study the evolution of the same antigens across two major pathogens: while N. meningitidis is an airborne, respiratory pathogen colonising the nasopharynx relatively transiently, N. gonorrhoeae can cause sexually transmitted, long-lived infections. We use a simple mathematical model and genomic data to show that trade-offs between immune selection pressures within- and between-hosts can explain the contrasting Opa repertoires observed in meningococci and gonococci.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / genetics
  • Antigens / genetics*
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / immunology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • HIV / genetics
  • HIV / pathogenicity
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / genetics*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / immunology
  • Neisseria meningitidis / pathogenicity


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Antigens
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Opa protein, Neisseria