Neisseria gonorrhoeae is an obligate human specific pathogenic bacterium that causes the sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea. Gonococci have the capacity to constantly change their surface creating millions of antigenically different bacteria in a given population. This diplococcus preferentially colonizes the mucosal surface of the male urethra and the female cervix. In most cases, gonococci cause local inflammation but also may spread within the host to cause systemic infections leading to serious conditions such as arthritis, endocarditis, meningitis, and pneumonia. To cause systemic infection, bacteria have to cross the epithelial barrier by transmigration or by destructing the epithelial cells. Once the bacteria reach the subepithelial layer and the blood stream they have to adapt to these niches in order to disseminate to other tissue. We investigate the molecular basis of disseminating gonococcal infection (DGI) with a focus on the bacterial factors required for dissemination and adaptation as well as the response of the host cell to these hypervariable bacteria. In a further research topic we investigate the role of gonococcal non-coding RNAs in controlling gene expression and antigenic variation.
Regulatory RNA in gonococcal infection
In recent years non-coding (nc) RNAs which act as post-transcriptional regulators in gene expression control were increasingly recognized as important components of regulatory networks in bacteria. Detection of ncRNAs has been boosted by the development of high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) techniques and, not surprisingly, a considerable number of putative trans-acting small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) and cis-acting antisense RNAs (asRNAs) was identified in the transcriptome of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This project investigates the role of gonococcal ncRNAs in bacterial metabolism and Neisseria host interaction (read more).