Intraclonal antigenic variation in pathogenic mycoplasma species is considered an important feature of host–pathogen interaction. Such intraclonal protein variation was observed for the interaction of subsp. Small Colony, the agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, with mAb 3F3. Colony immunostaining allows the definition of 3F3 ON- and 3F3 OFF-type variants, which revert at low frequency. Targets of mAb 3F3 were shown to be surface located, and resided on multiple polypeptides in the 58–68 kDa size range. Phage display and a genomic database were combined to determine the gene encoding the proteins recognized by mAb 3F3. A gene encoding the putative permease of the glucose phosphotransferase system was identified. Genome sequence analysis of strain PG1 revealed two highly similar copies of this gene, resulting from duplication of the chromosomal region carrying the gene. Southern blot analysis demonstrated the presence of this duplication in almost every African strain tested, but not in European strains. DNA analysis revealed that ON/OFF switching is governed by a base substitution occurring upstream of the coding region for the 3F3 epitope. This event generates a stop codon that results in the premature termination of the PtsG protein.


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