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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Localized frameshift mutation generates selective, high-frequency phase variation of a surface lipoprotein encoded by a mycoplasma ABC transporter operon.

The wall-less mycoplasmas have revealed unusual microbial strategies for adaptive variation of antigenic membrane proteins exposed during their surface colonization of host cells. In particular, high-frequency mutations affecting the expression of selected surface lipoproteins have been increasingly documented for this group of organisms. A novel manifestation of mutational phase variation is shown here to occur in Mycoplasma fermentans, a chronic human infectious agent and possible AIDS-associated pathogen. A putative ABC type transport operon encoding four gene products is identified. The 3' distal gene encoding P78, a known surface-exposed antigen and the proposed substrate-binding lipoprotein of the transporter, is subject to localized hypermutation in a short homopolymeric tract of adenine residues located in the N-terminal coding region of the mature product. High-frequency, reversible insertion/deletion frameshift mutations lead to selective phase variation in P78 expression, whereas the putative nucleotide-binding protein, P63, encoded by the most 5' gene of the operon, is continually expressed. Mutation-based phase variation in specific surface-exposed microbial transporter components may provide an adaptive advantage for immune evasion, while continued expression of other elements of the same transporter may preserve essential metabolic functions and confer alternative substrate specificity. These features could be critical in mycoplasmas, where limitations in both transcriptional regulators and transport systems may prevail. This study also documents that P63 contains an uncharacteristic hydrophobic sequence between predicted nucleotide binding motifs and displays an amphiphilic character in detergent fractionation. Both features are consistent with an evolutionary adaptation favoring integral association of this putative energy-transducing component with the single mycoplasma membrane.[1]


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