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Keywords:

  • polysaccharide;
  • pathogen;
  • polymorphism;
  • serotyping;
  • evolution;
  • glycosyltransferase

Abstract

This review covers the structures and genetics of the 46 O antigens of Salmonella, a major pathogen of humans and domestic animals. The variation in structures underpins the serological specificity of the 46 recognized serogroups. The O antigen is important for the full function and virulence of many bacteria, and the considerable diversity of O antigens can confer selective advantage. Salmonella O antigens can be divided into two major groups: those which have N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) or N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) and those which have galactose (Gal) as the first sugar in the O unit. In recent years, we have determined 21 chemical structures and sequenced 28 gene clusters for GlcNAc-/GalNAc-initiated O antigens, thus completing the structure and DNA sequence data for the 46 Salmonella O antigens. The structures and gene clusters of the GlcNAc-/GalNAc-initiated O antigens were found to be highly diverse, and 24 of them were found to be identical or closely related to Escherichia coli O antigens. Sequence comparisons indicate that all or most of the shared gene clusters were probably present in the common ancestor, although alternative explanations are also possible. In contrast, the better-known eight Gal-initiated O antigens are closely related both in structures and gene cluster sequences.