The lipid A component of meningococcal lipopolysaccharide was structurally characterized by using chemical modification methods, methylation analysis, 31P nuclear magnetic resonance, and laser desorption mass spectroscopy. It was shown that Neisseria meningitidis lipid A consists of a 1,4'-bisphosphorylated beta(1'----6)-linked D-glucosamine disaccharide (lipid A backbone), both phosphate groups being largely replaced by O-phosphorylethanolamine. This disaccharide harbors two nonsubstituted hydroxyl groups at positions 4 and 6', the latter representing the attachment site of the oligosaccharide portion in lipopolysaccharide. In addition, it is substituted by up to six fatty acid residues. In the major lipid A component, representing a hexaacyl species, the hydroxyl groups at positions 3 and 3' carry (R)-3-hydroxydodecanoic acid [12:0(3-OH)], whereas the amino groups at positions 2 and 2' are substituted by (R)-3-(dodecanoyloxy)tetradecanoic acid [3-O(12:0)-14:0]. A minor portion was present as a tetraacyl lipid A component lacking either dodecanoic acid (12:0) or 12:0 and 12:0(3-OH). N. meningitidis lipid A, therefore, significantly differs from Escherichia coli lipid A by the nature and locations of fatty acids and the substitution of O-phosphorylethanolamine for the nonglycosyl (4'-P) and glycosyl phosphate
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