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Summary

Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus, GAS) secretes streptokinase, a potent plasminogen activating protein. Among GAS isolates, streptokinase gene sequences (ska) are polymorphic and can be grouped into two distinct sequence clusters (termed cluster type-1 and cluster type-2) with cluster type-2 being further divided into sub-clusters type-2a and type-2b. In this study, far-UV circular dichroism spectroscopy indicated that purified streptokinase variants of each type displayed similar secondary structure. Type-2b streptokinase variants could not generate an active site in Glu-plasminogen through non-proteolytic mechanisms while all other variants had this capability. Furthermore, when compared with other streptokinase variants, type-2b variants displayed a 29- to 35-fold reduction in affinity for Glu-plasminogen. All SK variants could activate Glu-plasminogen when an activator complex was preformed with plasmin; however, type-2b and type-1 complexes were inhibited by α2-antiplasmin. Exchanging skatype-2a in the M1T1 GAS strain 5448 with skatype-2b caused a reduction in virulence while exchanging skatype-2a with skatype-1 into 5448 produced an increase in virulence when using a mouse model of invasive disease. These findings suggest that streptokinase variants produced by GAS isolates utilize distinct plasminogen activation pathways, which directly affects the pathogenesis of this organism.