Microevolution and Its Impact on Hypervirulence, Antimicrobial Resistance, and Vaccine Escape in Neisseria meningitidis

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Neisseria meningitidis is commensal of the human pharynx and occasionally invades the host, causing the life-threatening illness invasive meningococcal disease. The meningococcus is a highly diverse and adaptable organism thanks to natural competence, a propensity for recombination, and a highly repetitive genome. These mechanisms together result in a high level of antigenic variation to invade diverse human hosts and evade their innate and adaptive immune responses. This review explores the ways in which this diversity contributes to the evolutionary history and population structure of the meningococcus, with a particular focus on microevolution. It examines studies on meningococcal microevolution in the context of within-host evolution and persistent carriage; microevolution in the context of meningococcal outbreaks and epidemics; and the potential of microevolution to contribute to antimicrobial resistance and vaccine escape. A persistent theme is the idea that the process of microevolution contributes to the development of new hyperinvasive meningococcal variants. As such, microevolution in this species has significant potential to drive future public health threats in the form of hypervirulent, antibiotic-resistant, vaccine-escape variants. The implications of this on current vaccination strategies are explored.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3005
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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