• antigenic variation;
  • gene conversion;
  • pilE/pilS


Neisseria gonorrhoeae displays considerable potential for antigenic variation as shown in human experimental studies. Various surface antigens can change either by antigenic variation using RecA-dependent recombination schemes (e.g. PilE antigenic variation) or, alternatively, through phase variation (on/off switching) in a RecA-independent fashion (e.g. Opa and lipooligosaccharide phase variation). PilE antigenic variation has been well documented over the years. However, with the availability of the N. gonorrhoeae FA1090 genome sequence, considerable genetic advances have recently been made regarding the mechanistic considerations of the gene conversion event, leading to an altered PilE protein. This review will compare the various models that have been presented and will highlight potential mechanistic problems that may constrain any genetic model for pilE gene variation.