Pilus+ to pilus- phenotype change occurs in Neisseria gonorrhoeae through gene conversion of the gonococcus' complete, expressed pilin gene by nucleotides homologous to the pilS1 copy 5 partial pilin gene; assembly missense pilin is synthesized but pili are not. Reversion to pilus+ occurs by a subsequent recombinational event that replaces the complete pilin gene's pilS1 copy 5-like sequence with nucleotides from a different partial gene to effect expression of an orthodox (i.e., pilus producing) pilin. Sibling pilus+ revertants of common parentage can carry different sequences in their expressed pilin genes because they have undergone nonidentical gene conversion events such as recombinations with sequences from different partial genes, or recombinations with different length nucleotide stretches of the same partial gene; either can yield structurally and antigenically variant pilin polypeptides.

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