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Summary

Brucella is an invasive organism that multiplies and survives within eukaryotic cells. The brucellae are able to adhere to the surface of cultured epithelial cells, a mechanism that may facilitate penetration and dissemination to other host tissues. However, no adhesins that allow the bacteria to interact with the surface of epithelial cells before migration within polymorphonuclear leukocytes, monocytes and macrophages have been described. Here, we show that Brucella surface proteins (SPs) with apparent molecular masses of 14, 18 and 41 kDa bound selectively to HeLa cells. However, only antibodies directed against the 41 kDa surface protein (SP41) inhibited in dose–response manner, bacterial adherence and invasion of HeLa cells. HeLa cells treated with neuraminidase did not bind SP41, suggesting the involvement of cellular sialic acid residues in this interaction. Biochemical analysis of SP41 revealed that this protein is the predicted product of the ugpB locus, which showed significant homology to the glycerol-3-phosphate-binding ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter protein found in several bacterial species. SP41 appears to be exposed on the bacterial surface as determined by immunofluorescence and immunogold labelling with anti-SP41 antibody. An isogenic ΔugpB mutant showed a significant inhibitory effect on Brucella adherence and invasion of human cultured epithelial cells and this effect could be reversed by restoration of the ugpB on a plasmid. Lastly, we also show that most of the sera from individuals with acute brucellosis, but not sera obtained from healthy donors or patients with chronic brucellosis, mount antibody reactivity against SP41, suggesting that this protein is produced in vivo and that it elicits an antibody immune response. These data are novel findings that offer new insights into understanding the interplay between this bacterium and host target cells, and identify a new target for vaccine development and prevention of brucellosis.