, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 493-515
Date: 29 Jul 2008

Phase and antigenic variation mediated by genome modifications

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Phase and antigenic variation is used by several bacterial species to generate intra-population diversity that increases bacterial fitness and is important in niche adaptation, or to escape host defences. By this adaptive process, bacteria undergo frequent and usually reversible phenotypic changes resulting from genetic or epigenetic alterations at specific genetic loci. Phase variation or phenotypic switch allows the expression of a given phenotype to be switched ON or OFF. Antigenic variation refers to the expression of a number of alternative forms of an antigen on the cell surface, and at a molecular level, shares common features with phase variation mechanisms. This review will focus on phase and antigenic variation mechanisms implying genome modifications, with an emphasis on the diversity of phenotypes regulated by these mechanisms, and the ecological relevance of variant appearance within a given population.