Mini-review: Strategies for Variation and Evolution of Bacterial Antigens

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19 Scopus citations


Across the eubacteria, antigenic variation has emerged as a strategy to evade host immunity. However, phenotypic variation in some of these antigens also allows the bacteria to exploit variable host niches as well. The specific mechanisms are not shared-derived characters although there is considerable convergent evolution and numerous commonalities reflecting considerations of natural selection and biochemical restraints. Unlike in viruses, mechanisms of antigenic variation in most bacteria involve larger DNA movement such as gene conversion or DNA rearrangement, although some antigens vary due to point mutations or modified transcriptional regulation. The convergent evolution that promotes antigenic variation integrates various evolutionary forces: these include mutations underlying variant production; drift which could remove alleles especially early in infection or during life history phases in arthropod vectors (when the bacterial population size goes through a bottleneck); selection not only for any particular variant but also for the mechanism for the production of variants (i.e., selection for mutability); and overcoming negative selection against variant production. This review highlights the complexities of drivers of antigenic variation, in particular extending evaluation beyond the commonly cited theory of immune evasion. A deeper understanding of the diversity of purpose and mechanisms of antigenic variation in bacteria will contribute to greater insight into bacterial pathogenesis, ecology and coevolution with hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-416
Number of pages10
JournalComputational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
StatePublished - 2015


  • Homologous recombination
  • Hypermutability
  • Immune evasion
  • Pseudogene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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