• Shigella;
  • O antigen;
  • O antigen diversity;
  • O antigen gene cluster;
  • structure


This review covers the O antigens of the 46 serotypes of Shigella, but those of most Shigella flexneri are variants of one basic structure, leaving 34 Shigella distinct O antigens to review, together with their gene clusters. Several of the structures and gene clusters are reported for the first time and this is the first such group for which structures and DNA sequences have been determined for all O antigens. Shigella strains are in effect Escherichia coli with a specific mode of pathogenicity, and 18 of the 34 O antigens are also found in traditional E. coli. Three are very similar to E. coli O antigens and 13 are unique to Shigella strains. The O antigen of Shigella sonnei is quite atypical for E. coli and is thought to have transferred from Plesiomonas. The other 12 O antigens unique to Shigella strains have structures that are typical of E. coli, but there are considerably more anomalies in their gene clusters, probably reflecting recent modification of the structures. Having the complete set of structures and genes opens the way for experimental studies on the role of this diversity in pathogenicity.