The previously determined nucleotide sequence of the porA gene, encoding the class 1 outer membrane protein of meningococcal strain MC50, has been used to clone and sequence the porA gene from two further strains with differing serosubtype specificities. Comparison of the predicted amino acid sequences of the three class 1 proteins revealed considerable structural homology with major variation confined to two discrete regions (VR1 and VR2). The high degree of structural homology between the sequences gave predicted secondary structures that were almost identical, with the variable domains located in hydrophilic regions that are likely to be surface located and hence accessible to antibody binding. The predicted amino acid sequences have been used to define the epitopes recognized by mAbs with serosubtype specificity. A series of overlapping decapeptides spanning each of the class 1 protein sequences have been synthesized on solid-phase supports and probed with mAbs. Antibodies with P1.16 and P1.15 subtype specificity reacted with sequences in the VR2 domain, while antibodies with P1.7 subtype specificity reacted with sequences in the VR1 domain. Further peptides have been constructed to define the minimum epitopes recognized by each antibody. Thus we have been able to define linear peptides on each class 1 protein molecule that are responsible for subtype specificity and that represent targets for a protective immune response.

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