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Molecular mimicry of host structures by bacterial lipopolysaccharides and its contribution to disease

Anthony P. Moran, Martina M. Prendergast, Ben J. Appelmelk
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-695X.1996.tb00127.x 105-115 First published online: 1 December 1996


The core oligosaccharides of low-molecular-weight lipopolysaccharide (LPS), also termed lipooligosaccharide (LOS), of pathogenic Neisseria spp. mimic the carbohydrate moieties of glycosphingolipids present on human cells. Such mimicry may serve to camouflage the bacterial surface from the host. The LOS component is antigenically and/or chemically identical to lactoneoseries glycosphingolipids and can become sialylated in Neisseria gonorrhoeae when the bacterium is grown in the presence of cytidine 5′-monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid, the nucleotide sugar of sialic acid. Strains of Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae also express similarly sialylated LPS. Sialylation of the LOS influences susceptibility to bactericidal antibody, may decrease or prevent phagocytosis, cause down-regulation of complement activation, and decrease adherence to neutrophils and the subsequent oxidative burst response. The core oligosaccharides of LPS of Campylobacter jejuni serotypes which are associated with the development of the neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), exhibit mimicry of gangliosides. Cross-reactive antibodies between C. jejuni LPS and gangliosides are considered to play an important role in GBS pathogenesis. In contrast, the O-chain of a number of Helicobacter pylori strains exhibit mimicry of Lewisx and Lewisy blood group antigens. The role of this mimicry remains to be investigated, but may play a role in bacterial camouflage, the induction of autoimmunity and immune suppression in H. pylori-associated disease.

Key words:
  • Neisseria spp.
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Lipopolysaccharide
  • Molecular mimicry
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome