Despite on-going vaccination programmes, Neisseria meningitidis causes over 700 cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in the UK each year. In 2017-18, the MenW and MenY capsular groups caused 38% of all IMD cases. Current policy is to generate genome sequences of all meningococcal disease isolates. Using this resource, we aim to understand how genetic variation contributes to phenotypic differences between carriage and disease isolates.

We are adapting a variety of assays, designed to mimic carriage and disease behaviours, for high throughput phenotypic testing of multiple meningococcal isolates from carriage and cases of IMD. We have selected 335 MenW cc11 and MenY cc23 isolates and are currently testing subsets of isolates in cell culture (CaLu3), growth and biofilm assays. Phenotypic differences will be utilised as input data for Genome Wide Association Studies that aim to identify the specific genomic variants, or combinations of variants, determining observed differences. Genomic data will include whole genome sequences and repeat-mediated phase variation states.

Our preliminary data has detected variation in the ability of cc11 and cc23 isolates to disrupt monolayers of CaLu3 cells, indicating that minor genetic differences in phylogentically similar organisms may be physiologically important for both carriage and disease. We will also discuss progress in establishing successful, high-throughput assays for testing multiple isolates.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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