SUMMARY: Immunological analysis of gonococcal pilin (the protein structural subunit of pili) has demonstrated the existence of cross-reacting and type-specific epitopes. The role in adhesion of the domains represented by these epitopes remains unclear. DNA sequencing of a series of pilinexpressing () genes from a number of otherwise isogenic pilus antigenic variants combined with previous immunological analysis of the corresponding encoded pilins has allowed us to correlate certain predicted amino acid sequences with monoclonal antibody reactivities. The putative epitopes for type-specific antibodies lie predominantly in hydrophilic domains that also contain β turns. The epitopes for type-specific monoclonal antibodies were shown to depend on amino acid changes either in three separated blocks of amino acid sequence in the semi-variable (SV) region of pilin, or in discrete regions that lie in the disulphide loop in the hypervariable (HV) region of the polypeptide. In contrast, antibody SMI, which reacts with all gonococcal pili, recognizes a poorly immunogenic region of moderate hydrophilicity but low turn potential lying in a conserved portion of the pilin molecule. Our results confirm that antibodies directed against epitopes in both the SV and HV regions are able to inhibit adhesion.


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