Serum opacity factor promotes group A streptococcal epithelial cell invasion and virulence


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Serum opacity factor (SOF) is a bifunctional cell surface protein expressed by 40–50% of group A streptococcal (GAS) strains comprised of a C-terminal domain that binds fibronectin and an N-terminal domain that mediates opacification of mammalian sera. The sof gene was recently discovered to be cotranscribed in a two-gene operon with a gene encoding another fibronectin-binding protein, sfbX. We compared the ability of a SOF(+) wild-type serotype M49 GAS strain and isogenic mutants lacking SOF or SfbX to invade cultured HEp-2 human pharyngeal epithelial cells. Elimination of SOF led to a significant decrease in HEp-2 intracellular invasion while loss of SfbX had minimal effect. The hypoinvasive phenotype of the SOF(–) mutant could be restored upon complementation with the sof gene on a plasmid vector, and heterologous expression of sof49 in M1 GAS or Lactococcus lactis conferred marked increases in HEp-2 cell invasion. Studies using a mutant sof49 gene lacking the fibronectin-binding domain indicated that the N-terminal opacification domain of SOF contributes to HEp-2 invasion independent of the C-terminal fibronectin binding domain, findings corroborated by observations that a purified SOF N-terminal peptide could promote latex bead adherence to HEp-2 cells and inhibit GAS invasion of HEp-2 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Finally, the first in vivo studies to employ a single gene allelic replacement mutant of SOF demonstrate that this protein contributes to GAS virulence in a murine model of necrotizing skin infection.