Pyruvate oxidase, as a determinant of virulence in Streptococcus pneumoniae


H. Robert Masure E-mail; Tel. (212) 327 7283; Fax (212) 327 7428


Pneumococcus has been shown to bind to epithelial cells of the nasopharynx and lung, and to endothelial cells of the peripheral vasculature. To characterize bacterial elements required for attachment to these cell types, a library of genetically altered pneumococci with defects in exported proteins was screened for the loss of attachment to glycoconjugates representative of the nasopharyngeal cell receptor, type II lung cells (LC) and human endothelial cells (EC). A mutant was identified which showed a greater than 70% loss in the ability to attach to all cell types. This mutant also showed decreased adherence to the glycoconjugates containing the terminal sugar residues GalNAcβ1-3Gal, GalNAcβ1-4Gal and the carbohydrate GlcNAc, which are proposed components of the pneumococcal receptors specific to the surfaces of LC and EC. Analysis of the locus altered in this mutant revealed a gene, spxB, that encodes a member of the family of bacterial pyruvate oxidases which decarboxylates pyruvate to acetyl phosphate plus H2O2 and CO2. This mutant produced decreased concentrations of H2O2 and failed to grow aerobically in a chemically defined medium, unless supplemented with acetate which presumably restores acetyl phosphate levels by the action of acetate kinase, further suggesting that spxB encodes a pyruvate oxidase. The addition of acetate to the growth medium restored the adherence properties of the mutant indicating a link between the enzyme and the expression of bacterial adhesins. A defect in spxB corresponded to impaired virulence of the mutant in vivo. Compared to the parent strain, an spxB mutant showed reduced virulence in animal models for nasopharyngeal colonization, pneumonia, and sepsis. We propose that a mutation in spxB leads to down-regulation of the multiple adhesive properties of pneumococcus which, in turn, may correlate to diminished virulence in vivo