- Short Communication
- Open Access
Effect of mesoporous silica under Neisseria meningitidis transformation process: environmental effects under meningococci transformation
© Hollanda et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2011
- Received: 12 March 2011
- Accepted: 25 July 2011
- Published: 25 July 2011
This study aimed the use of mesoporous silica under the naturally transformable Neisseria meningitidis, an important pathogen implicated in the genetic horizontal transfer of DNA causing a escape of the principal vaccination measures worldwide by the capsular switching process. This study verified the effects of mesoporous silica under N. meningitidis transformation specifically under the capsular replacement.
we used three different mesoporous silica particles to verify their action in N. meningitis transformation frequency.
we verified the increase in the capsular gene replacement of this bacterium with the three mesoporous silica nanoparticles.
the mesouporous silica particles were capable of increasing the capsule replacement frequency in N. meningitidis.
- Mesoporous Silica
- Transformation Frequency
- Capsular Polysaccharide
- Neisseria Meningitidis
Freshly isolated Neisseria meningitidis are naturally competent and exchange genetic information with each other by this process. They are also known as a commensal bacterium of the human upper respiratory tract that may occasionally provoke invasive infections such as septicemia and meningitis. This natural competence has been directly correlated to pilliation of these organisms  as well as a specific uptake sequence contained multifold within the genome of these bacteria. Pilliated strains are easily transformed by direct incubation with a plasmid containing the uptake sequence or chromosomal DNA . The advantages of doing genetic manipulations within these well-known strains are numerous. Development of systems to construct specific genomic mutations has been used to study their pathogenesis [3–5].
The use of the mutations for the study of the capsular polysaccharide of N. meningitidi s allowed the advances in the meningococci pathogenesis understandings [6–8]. The capsular polysaccharide is a major virulence factor and a protective antigen. Meningococcal strains are classified into 12 different serogroups according to their capsular immune specificity, among wich the serogroups A, B, C, Y and W135 are the most frequently found in invasive infections. The capsule of serogroups B, C, Y and W135 strains is composed of either homopolymers (B and C) or heteropolymers (Y and W135) of sialic acid-containing polysaccharides that are specifically linked, depending on the serogroup [9–11]. This polymerization is mediated by the polysialyltransferase, encoded by the siaD gene in strains of serogroups B and C (also called synD and synE, respectively) and by synG in serogroup W135. Capsule switching after replacement of synE, in a serogroup C strain, by synG may result from the conversion of capsule genes by transformation and allelic recombination [3, 12, 13]. The capsule switching from serogroup C to B N. meningitidis was observed in several countries after vaccination campaigns [3, 14–17]. It might explain the emergence and the clonal expansion of strains of serogroup W135 of N. meningitidis in the year 2000 among Hajj pilgrims who had been vaccinated against meningococci of serogroups A and C [11, 18]. These W135 strains belong to the same clonal complex ET-37/ST-11 as prominent serogroup C strains involved in outbreaks worldwide [12, 19]. Hence, the emergence of these W135 strains in epidemic conditions raised the question about a possible capsule switching as an escape mechanism to vaccine-induced immunity. Also, these events are expected to occur continuously and can be selected by immune response against a particular capsular polysaccharide . However, the interference of immune response with transformation efficacy has not yet been evaluated. Specific capsular antibodies are expected to bind to the bacterial surface and hence the interference in DNA recognition and uptake.
In addition, environmental interference on the transformation process of this bacterium is also unknown. This work aimed at the use of different mesoporous silica SBA-15, SBA-16 and [SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm)], an organic-inorganic hybrids systems based on mesoporous materials and stimuli-responsive polymers, for the study of these nanostructures effect on the transformation process of meningococci, specifically their functions on capsular switching process. Mesoporous silica materials are a fairly new type of material that has pores in the mesoscopic range of 2-50 nm. The characteristic features of ordered mesoporous materials are their monodispersed and adjustable pore size in an inert and biocompatible matrix with an easily modified surface. The intrinsic uniform porous structure of this class of compounds with their large specific surface area and pore volume, associated with surface silanol groups, makes these materials suitable as an adsorbent model for studies involving surface phenomena. The methods used in this work verified the effect of mesoporous silica SBA-15, SBA-16 and [SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm)] on the transformation of the serogroup C N. meningitidis against two different donor DNA obtained from mutants of this microorganism (M2 and M6).
Bacterial Strains used in this work
Escherichia coli F-, end A1, hsd R17 c, sup E44, thi- 1, gir A96, rel A1
Plasmid containing ΔNMB0065::ΩaaDA
Plasmid containning the fusion of synG::ermAM
Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C, BIOMERIEUX
Neisseria meningitidis serogroup W135, ATCC35559
N.meningitidis isogenic mutant ΔNMB0065:: ΩaaDA
W135ATCC transformed with pLAN13 to generate a fusioned strain synG:ermAM
The mesoporous silica nanoparticles SBA-15, SBA-16 and [SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm)] were characterized by Sousa et al. . Both, SBA-15 and SBA-16 are composed of SiO2 but the characteristic features of SBA-15 are the presence of channels arranged in a two-dimensional hexagonal structure and wheat like macroscopic morphology with mean sizes in micrometer scale which consist of many ropelike aggregates. On the other hand, SBA-16 is an example of ordered mesoporous silica with a three dimensional cubic cage structure with three dimensional channel connectivity. Also, in SBA-16 the arrays of the ordered and uniform pores can be observed for which each spherical particle is a single crystal arranged in cubic structure.
N2 adsorption results.
SBA-15/P( N -iPAAm)
Oligonucleotides used in this work
Sequence 5'- 3'
A preliminary analysis of the action of the mesoporous silica was performed to determine the influence of this nanostructure under Neisseria meningitidis growth. The results did not show any influence on bacterial growth of the presence of DNA in addition of SBa15, SBa16 or SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm) (data not showed).
The first mutant referent to NMB0065 sequence mutants was the strain M2, this mutant had the NMB0065 sequence from N. meningitidis C2135 amplified using 03.12-3 and 03.12-4 oligonucleotides (Table 3). This fragment was cloned into the pGEM-T Easy Vector System II (Promega Corporation, Madison, WI, USA), to generate the plasmid pLAN6. E. coli strain Z501 was transformed with plasmid pLAN6 resulting in the plasmid pLAN7. The ΩaaDA cassette was inserted into the BclI site of pLAN7 to generate plasmid pLAN45, which was transformed into the C2135 strain to generate the strain M2 (Figure 3).
The construction of serogroup W135 mutants with transcriptional fusion synG:: ermAM was initiated by amplifying the region of synG gene using the 98-30 and 03-12-5 oligonucleotides (Table 3) on DNA from the serogroup W135atcc strain. The amplified fragment was cloned into the pGEM-T Easy Vector System I (Promega, Madison, WI, USA), to generate the plasmid pLAN11. Another fragment was amplified using the 04-02-2/galECK29A from synG downstream sequence, cloned into pGEM-T Easy Vector, to generate pLAN52. The ermAM cassette was amplified by ERAM1/ERAM3 and insered into Nco I site of pLAN52 to generate pLAN53. The fragment amplified from pLAN53 with the ERAM1 and galECK29A  was inserted into Pst I site of pLAN11 to generate pLAN13-2. This plasmid was linearised by the enzyme SphI and transformed into W135ATCC strain to generate the synG::ermAM fusion strain M6, erythromycin resistant (Figure 4).
Values obtained from C21 35 Transformation using the donor DNA from M2 and M6 mutants.
Donor DNA (1 μg)
Mean of the UCF transformants obtained in 1.108 UFC
Ratio (means obtained exposed to silica/mean of negative control)
P values (one way Tukey's test)
Negative Control (without mesoporous silica) M2
932 ± 175,50
1,00 ± 0,11
SBa 15 + DNA M2
1696 ± 73,30
1,52 ± 0,25
(P < 0,05)
SBa 16 + DNA M2
1840 ± 423,32
1,97 ± 0,22
(P < 0,05)
SBa 15 (P( N -iPAAm) + DNA M2
1544 ± 358,10
1,38 ± 0,05
(P < 0,05)
Negative Control (without mesoporous silica) M6
106 ± 10,00
0,92 ± 0,06
SBa 15 + DNA M6
364,33 ± 117,11
3,17 ± 0,80
0,0475 (P < 0,05)
SBa 16 + DNA M6
558,70 ± 59,56
4,50 ± 0,43
0,0008 (P < 0,05)
SBa 15 (P( N -iPAAm) + DNA M6
598,67 ± 107,56
5,20 ± 0,80
0,0058 (P < 0,05)
The graphic of Figure 5 shows significant increase of transformation frequencies using M2 and M6 donor DNA and the mesoporous silica SBA-15, SBA-16 and SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm). The use of a different DNA donor had as aim the certification of the independence of mesoporous silica effect on the same bacterial strain-N. meningitidis C2135. The analysis of the PCR had demonstrated the transfer of the gene synG from M6 donor strains to C2135 receptor strain (data not showed).
The data analyses were made by ratio values between the numbers of transformants CFU obtained with mesoporous silica action by the median value of transformants CFU obtained without silica treatment. The values were analyzed by ANOVA one-way analysis of variance (Tukey test compared each treatment to control without mesoporous silica in transformation). The meningococci growth was not affected by the presence of mesoporous silica (data not shown).
As showed in table 4, the significant values of P < 0.05 obtained in the ratio values between transformation using the donors M2 and M6 mutants DNA, respectively. These values are considered significant when compared with the transformation frequency obtained from negative control without silica action. Thus, the actions of mesopourous silica under the meningococci transformation increased the capacity of the C2135 strains, specially using the construction M6, directly implicated in the capsular switching outbreaks.
Despite the exact mechanism of the capsular switching is still under investigation, we proposed that this process is related to the action of mesoporous silica structures in the transformation frequencies in 1.108 cfu, with a significant increase when mesoporous silica was used. The behavior of SBA-16, regarding to transformation process of C2135 strain with donor DNA from M2 mutant, was different from that observed for the others. This nanoparticle showed increase of transformation frequency more than SBA-15, and SBA-15/P(N-iPAAm) mesoporous silica. Besides the differences in the textural properties showed in Table 2, a probable cause for the different responses is the presence of singular morphological arrangements, as they are hierarchically organized in a special way. Moreover, it is worth noticing that the three-dimensional interconnected pore structure of sample SBA-16 can facilitate the occurrence of adsorption.
The important information is the chromosomal localization of the NMB0065 and synG gene. Both are gene of bacterial chromosome and their biological characteristics determined in Neisseria meningitidis when these genes are recombined onto chromosomes level. Nevertheless, N. meningitidis rarely replicate the plasmids provided from E.coli constructions, as those performed in these work (plasmids from pLAN series), exceptionally when in the plasmid carrier antibiotic resistant from another species of Neisseria as N. gonorrhoeae[24–26].
Also the practical implications of the silica action under meningococci are very important to the workers that usually are exposed at these nanoparticles [27–29]. The careful action of adopting the safety measures not only the silicosis [30–33] but also for adopting safety mesures to prevent not only silicosis but also changing pathology and host adaptation of N. meningitidis, will be important in places where silica nanoparticles are present, especially in aerosols. This work is the first to cite the relationships between the silica risks of health caused by meningococcal capsular switching or capsular replacement. This neglected process is described just as an immunologically controlled phenomenon not involving the environmental influences such as the presence of the nanostructures in the atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the capsular switching is described in regions as the sub Saharan Africa [11, 34–36] and Saudi Arabia (Hajj pilgrimage) [34, 37–43] in desert zones where probably silica nanostructures are present that facilities the capsular switching process. New experiments using the animal models could confirm this hypothesis and has been performed by the research group for Neisseria meningitdis and other natural competent bacteria as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae.
This study has been financier supported by CAPES, FAPESP, CNPq and FAPEMIG. These supports help us to reagent supply and equipments for all this research development. FAPESP (number 2008/56777-5) and CNPq (number 575313/2008-0) funding the Laboratory of Biotechnology (Coordinated by M.L.). FAPEMIG funding the laboratory coordinated by E.M.B.S. CNPq and CAPES funding with the personal fellowships for students: R.F.C.P., AS and GAF. Thanks for the English revision for Luiz Paulo Manzo, Júlia N. Varela and Maria Cecília T. Amstalden.
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