Evolutionary Events Associated with an Outbreak of Meningococcal Disease in Men Who Have Sex with Men

PLoS One. 2016 May 11;11(5):e0154047. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154047. eCollection 2016.


Meningococci spread via respiratory droplets, whereas the closely related gonococci are transmitted sexually. Several outbreaks of invasive meningococcal disease have been reported in Europe and the United States among men who have sex with men (MSM). We recently identified an outbreak of serogroup C meningococcal disease among MSM in Germany and France. In this study, genomic and proteomic techniques were used to analyze the outbreak isolates. In addition, genetically identical urethritis isolates were recovered from France and Germany and included in the analysis. Genome sequencing revealed that the isolates from the outbreak among MSM and from urethritis cases belonged to a clade within clonal complex 11. Proteome analysis showed they expressed nitrite reductase, enabling anaerobic growth as previously described for gonococci. Invasive isolates from MSM, but not urethritis isolates, further expressed functional human factor H binding protein associated with enhanced survival in a newly developed transgenic mouse model expressing human factor H, a complement regulatory protein. In conclusion, our data suggest that urethritis and outbreak isolates followed a joint adaptation route including adaption to the urogenital tract.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Complement Factor H / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Complement Factor H / genetics
  • Complement Factor H / metabolism
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • France / epidemiology
  • Gene Expression
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / diagnosis
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / epidemiology*
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / microbiology
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neisseria meningitidis / classification*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / genetics
  • Neisseria meningitidis / isolation & purification
  • Neisseria meningitidis / pathogenicity
  • Neisseria meningitidis, Serogroup C / classification*
  • Neisseria meningitidis, Serogroup C / genetics
  • Neisseria meningitidis, Serogroup C / isolation & purification
  • Neisseria meningitidis, Serogroup C / pathogenicity
  • Nitrite Reductases / genetics*
  • Nitrite Reductases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteome / genetics
  • Proteome / metabolism
  • Urethritis / diagnosis
  • Urethritis / epidemiology*
  • Urethritis / microbiology
  • Urethritis / pathology


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Proteome
  • Complement Factor H
  • Nitrite Reductases