Variation in a surface-exposed region of the Mycoplasma pneumoniae P40 protein as a consequence of homologous DNA recombination between RepMP5 elements
Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a human pathogen that causes a range of respiratory tract infections. The first step in infection is adherence of the bacteria to the respiratory epithelium. This step is mediated by a specialized organelle, which contains several proteins (cytadhesins) that have an important function in adherence. Two of these cytadhesins, P40 and P90, represent the proteolytic products from a single 130 kDa protein precursor, which is encoded by the MPN142 gene. Interestingly, MPN142 contains a repetitive DNA element, termed RepMP5, of which homologues are found at seven other loci within the M. pneumoniae genome. It has been hypothesized that these RepMP5 elements, which are similar but not identical in sequence, recombine with their counterpart within MPN142 and thereby provide a source of sequence variation for this gene. As this variation may give rise to amino acid changes within P40 and P90, the recombination between RepMP5 elements may constitute the basis of antigenic variation and, possibly, immune evasion by M. pneumoniae. To investigate the sequence variation of MPN142 in relation to inter-RepMP5 recombination, we determined the sequences of all RepMP5 elements in a collection of 25 strains. The results indicate that: (i) inter-RepMP5 recombination events have occurred in seven of the strains, and (ii) putative RepMP5 recombination events involving MPN142 have induced amino acid changes in a surface-exposed part of the P40 protein in two of the strains. We conclude that recombination between RepMP5 elements is a common phenomenon that may lead to sequence variation of MPN142-encoded proteins.