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Heterogeneity in the lipooligosaccharides (LOS) of pathogenic Haemophilus and Neisseria species is evident from the multiplicity of components observed with electrophoretic analyses. Knowledge of the precise structures that make up these diverse LOS molecules is clearly the key to reaching an understanding of pathogenic processes such as phase variation and molecular mimicry. Except for a few cases, little is known about the specific structural features of LOS that underlie phase variation and molecular mimicry, partly because of the inherent difficulties in the structural elucidation of these complex glycolipids. In the lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from Salmonella typhimurium and Escherichia coli, rough, or R-type, mutants have been isolated that have provided insight into the biosynthetic pathways and associated genetics that control LPS expression. Nonetheless, recent work has shown that these R-type LPS are more complex than originally thought, and significant heterogeneity is still observed, primarily in their phosphorylation states. In order to investigate the structures of LPS and LOS in a more rapid fashion, we have determined the precise molecular weights of LOS (and LPS) preparations from various Haemophilus, Neisseria, and Salmonella species by electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry. The LOS (or LPS) were first O-deacylated under mild hydrazine conditions to remove O-linked esters primarily from the lipid A portion. Under negative-ion conditions, the O-deacylated LOS yield abundant multiply deprotonated molecular ions, (M-nH)n-, where n refers to the number of protons removed and therefore determines the absolute charge state, n = z. Mass spectra from different LOS and LPS preparations have provided detailed information concerning the structural basis for LOS (and LPS) heterogeneity and corresponding saccharide compositions. The identification of sialic acid in the LOS of Haemophilus and Neisseria species and the variable phosphorylation of the core of S. typhimurium LPS have afforded insights into the biosynthetic pathways used by these organisms. Information of this type is important for understanding the underlying genetic and environmental factors controlling LOS and LPS expression.


This article was published by the American Society for Microbiology and is available at: