Transformation Competence and type-4 Pilus Biogenesis in Neisseria Gonorrhoeae--A Review

Gene. 1997 Jun 11;192(1):125-34. doi: 10.1016/s0378-1119(97)00038-3.


In Neisseria gonorrhoea (Ngo), the processes of type-4 pilus biogenesis and DNA transformation are functionally linked and play a pivotal role in the life style of this strictly human pathogen. The assembly of pili from its main subunit pilin (PilE) is a prerequisite for gonococcal infection since it allows the first contact to epithelial cells in conjunction with the pilus tip-associated PilC protein. While the components of the pilus and its assembly machinery are either directly or indirectly involved in the transport of DNA across the outer membrane, other factors unrelated to pilus biogenesis appear to facilitate further DNA transfer across the murein layer (ComL, Tpc) and the inner membrane (ComA) before the transforming DNA is rescued in the recipient bacterial chromosome in a RecA-dependent manner. Interestingly, PilE is essential for the first step of transformation, i.e., DNA uptake, and is itself also subject to transformation-mediated phase and antigenic variation. This short-term adaptive mechanism allows Ngo to cope with changing micro-environments in the host as well as to escape the immune response during the course of infection. Given the fact that Ngo has no ecological niche other than man, horizontal genetic exchange is essential for a successful co-evolution with the host. Horizontal exchange gives rise to heterogeneous populations harboring clones which better withstand selective forces within the host. Such extended horizontal exchange is reflected by a high genome plasticity, the existence of mosaic genes and a low linkage disequilibrium of genetic loci within the neisserial population. This led to the concept that rather than regarding individual Neisseria species as independent traits, they comprise a collective of species interconnected via horizontal exchange and relying on a common gene pool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigenic Variation
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Fimbriae Proteins
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / immunology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / immunology
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / metabolism*
  • Transformation, Bacterial*


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • pilC protein, Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • pilE protein, Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Fimbriae Proteins