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Neisseria gonorrhoeae PIII has a role on NG1873 outer membrane localization and is involved in bacterial adhesion to human cervical and urethral epithelial cells

Rosanna Leuzzi, Barbara Nesta, Elisabetta Monaci, Elena Cartocci, Laura Serino, Marco Soriani, Rino Rappuoli and Mariagrazia Pizza*

Author Affiliations

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, S.r.L, Via Fiorentina 1, Siena 53100, Italy

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:251  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-251

Published: 9 November 2013



Protein PIII is one of the major outer membrane proteins of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, 95% identical to RmpM (reduction modifiable protein M) or class 4 protein of Neisseria meningitidis. RmpM is known to be a membrane protein associated by non-covalent bonds to the peptidoglycan layer and interacting with PorA/PorB porin complexes resulting in the stabilization of the bacterial membrane. The C-terminal domain of PIII (and RmpM) is highly homologous to members of the OmpA family, known to have a role in adhesion/invasion in many bacterial species. The contribution of PIII in the membrane architecture and its role in the interaction with epithelial cells has never been investigated.


We generated a ΔpIII knock-out mutant strain and evaluated the effects of the loss of PIII expression on bacterial morphology and on outer membrane composition. Deletion of the pIII gene does not cause any alteration in bacterial morphology or sensitivity to detergents. Moreover, the expression profile of the main membrane proteins remains the same for the wild-type and knock-out strains, with the exception of the NG1873 which is not exported to the outer membrane and accumulates in the inner membrane in the ΔpIII knock-out mutant strain.

We also show that purified PIII protein is able to bind human cervical and urethral cells and that the ΔpIII knock-out mutant strain has a lower ability to adhere to human cervical and urethral cells.


Here we demonstrated that the PIII protein does not play a key structural role in the membrane organization of gonococcus and does not induce major effects on the expression of the main outer membrane proteins. However, in the PIII knock-out strain, the NG1873 protein is not localized in the outer membrane as it is in the wild-type strain suggesting a possible interaction of PIII with NG1873. The evidence that PIII binds to human epithelial cells derived from the female and male genital tract highlights a possible role of PIII in the virulence of gonococcus and suggests that the structural homology to OmpA is conserved also at functional level.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae; PIII; OmpA; adhesion; Outer membrane; RmpM homologue