Sequence conservation of pilus subunits in Neisseria meningitidis.
Cehovin A., Winterbotham M., Lucidarme J., Borrow R., Tang CM., Exley RM., Pelicic V.
The rapid onset and dramatic consequences of Neisseria meningitidis infections make the design of a broadly protective vaccine a priority for public health. There is an ongoing quest for meningococcal components that are surface exposed, widely conserved and can induce protective antibodies. Type IV pili (Tfp) are filamentous structures with a key role in pathogenesis that extend beyond the surface of the bacteria and have demonstrated vaccine potential. However, extensive antigenic variation of PilE, the major subunit of Tfp, means that they are currently considered to be unsuitable vaccine components. Recently it has been shown that Tfp also contain low abundance pilins ComP, PilV and PilX in addition to PilE. This prompted us to examine the prevalence and sequence diversity of these proteins in a panel of N. meningitidis disease isolates. We found that all minor pilins are highly conserved and the major pilin genes are also highly conserved within the ST-8 and ST-11 clonal complexes. These data have important implications for the re-consideration of pilus subunits as vaccine antigens.