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The opacity (Opa) proteins mediate a variety of interactions between the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis and its human host. These interactions are thought to be of central importance in both the asymptomatic colonization of the nasopharynx and the sporadic occurrence of meningococcal disease. The receptor specificities of a limited number of Opa protein variants have been explored, but the high level of amino acid sequence diversity among variants has complicated the assignment of specific roles to individual Opa variants or combinations of variants. In addition, the distribution of Opa protein variants among diverse meningococci, information that is potentially informative for studies of Opa function, is poorly understood. A systematic survey of the genetic diversity in the four opa gene loci in each of 77 meningococcal isolates was undertaken. These isolates were representative of the seven hyperinvasive meningococcal clonal complexes that caused the majority of meningococcal disease over the last 50 years. Consistent with previous studies, a high level of sequence diversity was observed among the opa genes and the proteins that they encoded; however, particular sets of Opa protein variants were consistently associated with each of the clonal complexes over time periods often spanning decades and during global spread. These observations were consistent with the postulate that particular combinations of Opa proteins confer fitness advantages to individual clonal complexes and have implications for studies of Opa function and the inclusion of Opa proteins in novel meningococcal vaccines.

Original publication




Journal article


Infect Immun

Publication Date





5085 - 5094


Adhesins, Bacterial, Amino Acid Sequence, Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins, Base Sequence, Genes, Bacterial, Genetic Variation, Humans, Meningitis, Meningococcal, Molecular Sequence Data, Neisseria meningitidis, Phylogeny, Recombination, Genetic