SUMMARY: The occurrence of antigenic shift during meningococcal infection has been investigated by comparison of paired isolates obtained from the blood, cerebrospinal fluid or nasopharynx of patients. Isolates from any individual produced identical DNA “fingerprints” and showed stability in expression of both class 2 outer membrane protein and an antigen common to pathogenic Neisseria, confirming their origin as a single strain. One of the four strains examined produced variants which differed in the molecular mass of their class 5 outer membrane proteins. Three of the strains produced pili containing the epitope recognized by monoclonal antibody SM1 and two of these gave rise to variants which expressed pili of differing subunit molecular masses. The two variants of the remaining strain produced pilins lacking the common epitope detected by antibody SM1 but radioimmune precipitation with polyclonal anti-pilus antiserum revealed that variation in the molecular mass of the pilin expressed also occurred with this second class of pili. Antigenic variation in expression of both class 5 outer membrane proteins and pili therefore appears to be a common occurrence during meningococcal infection.


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