Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

, Volume 253, Issue 1–2, pp 179–190

The role of pilin glycan in neisserial pathogenesis

  • Asesh Banerjee
  • Salil K. Ghosh


The pilus of pathogenic Neisseria is a polymer composed mainly of the glycoprotein, pilin. Recent investigations significantly enhanced characterization of pilin glycan (Pg) from N. gonorrhoeae (gonococcus, GC) and N. meningitidis (meningococcus, MC). Several pilin glycosylation genes were discovered recently from these bacteria and some of these genes transfer sugars previously unknown to be present in neisserial pili. Due to these findings, glycans of GC and MC pilin are now considered more complex. Furthermore, various Pg can be expressed by different strains and variants of GC, as well as MC. Intra-species variation of Pg between different groups of GC or MC can partly be due to polymorphisms of glycosylation genes. In pilus of pathogenic Neisseria, alternative glycoforms are also produced due to phase-variation (Pv) of pilin glycosylation genes. Most remarkably, the pgtA (pilin glycosyl transferase A) gene of GC can either posses or lack the ability of Pv. Many GC strains carry the phase-variable (Pv+) pgtA, whereas others carry the allele lacking Pv (Pv–). Mostly, the GC isolates from disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) carry Pv+ pgtA but organisms from uncomplicated gonorrhea (UG) contain the Pv– allele. This data suggests that Pv of pgtA facilitates DGI, whereas constitutive expression of the Pv– pgtA may promote UG. Additional implications of Pg in various physiological and pathogenic mechanisms of Neisseria can also be envisaged based on various recent data.

Neisseria pilus glycosylation pilin glycan gonorrhea DGI meningitis phase-variation poly-G tract glycosyl transferase 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Asesh Banerjee
    • 1
  • Salil K. Ghosh
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyThe Catholic University of AmericaWashingtonUSA

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