A locus of group A streptococcus involved in invasive disease and DNA transfer



Group A streptococcus (GAS) causes diseases ranging from benign to severe infections such as necrotizing fasciitis (NF). The reasons for the differences in severity of streptococcal infections are unexplained. We developed the polymorphic-tag-lengths-transposon-mutagenesis (PTTM) method to identify virulence genes in vivo. We applied PTTM on an emm14 strain isolated from a patient with NF and screened for mutants of decreased virulence, using a mouse model of human soft-tissue infection. A mutant that survived in the skin but was attenuated in its ability to reach the spleen and to cause a lethal infection was identified. The transposon was inserted into a small open reading frame (ORF) in a locus termed sil, streptococcal invasion locus. sil contains at least five genes (silA-E) and is highly homologous to the quorum-sensing competence regulons of Streptococcus pneumoniae. silA and silB encode a putative two-component system whereas silD and silE encode two putative ABC transporters. silC is a small ORF of unknown function preceded by a combox promoter. Insertion and deletion mutants of sil had a diminished lethality in the animal model. Virulence of a deletion mutant of silC was restored when injected together with the avirulent emm14-deletion mutant, but not when these mutants were injected into opposite flanks of a mouse. DNA transfer between these mutants occurred in vivo but could not account for the complementation of virulence. DNA exchange between the emm14-deletion mutant and mutants of sil occurred also in vitro, at a frequency of ∼ 10-8 for a single antibiotic marker. Whereas silC and silD mutants exchanged markers with the emm14 mutant, silB mutant did not. Thus, we identified a novel locus, which controls GAS spreading into deeper tissues and could be involved in DNA transfer.