Functional characterization of Streptococcus pyogenes pili

Becherelli, Marco (2010) Functional characterization of Streptococcus pyogenes pili, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Biologia cellulare, molecolare e industriale/cellular, molecular and industrial biology: progetto n. 2 Biologia funzionale dei sistemi cellulari e molecolari, 22 Ciclo.
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Group A Streptococcus is a Gram-positive human pathogen able to colonize both upper respiratory tract and skin. GAS is responsible for several acute diseases and autoimmune sequelae that account for half a million deaths worldwide every year (Cunningham et al., 2000). As other bacteria, GAS infections requires the capacity of the pathogen to adhere to host tissues and to form cell aggregates. The ability to persist in distinct host niches like the throat and the skin and to trigger infections is associated with the expression of different GAS virulence factors. GAS pili has been described as important virulence factors encoded by different FCT-operon regions. Based on this information, we decided to study the possible effect of environmental conditions that could regulate the pili expression. In this study we reported the influence of pH environment variations in biofilm formation for strains pertaining to a panel of different GAS FCT-types. The biofilm formation was promoted, excepted in the FCT-1 strains, by a changing in pH from physiological to acidic condition of growth in in vitro biofilm assay. By analyzing the possible association between biofilm formation and pH dependence, we have found that in FCT-2 and FCT-3 strains, the biofilm is promoted by pH reduction leading to an increase of pili expression. These data confirmed a direct link between pH dependent pilus expression and biofilm formation in GAS. As pili are a multi component structure we decided to investigate the functional role of one of its subunits, the AP-1 protein. AP-1 is highly conserved through the different FCT-types and suggests a possible essential role for the pili function. We focused our attention on the AP-1 protein encoded by the FCT-1 strains (M6). In particular this AP-1 protein contains the von Willebrand Factor A (VWFA) domain, which share an homology with the human VWFA domain that has been reported to be involved in adhesion process. We have demonstrated that the AP-1 protein binds to human epithelial cells by its VWFA domain, whereas the biofilm formation is mediated by the N-terminal region of AP-1 protein. Moreover, analyzing the importance of AP-1 in in vivo experiments we found a major capacity of tissue dissemination for the wild-type strain compared to the isogenic AP-1 deletion mutant. Pili have been also reported as potential vaccine candidates against Gram positive bacteria. For these reason we decided to investigate the relationship between cross reaction of sera raised against different GAS and GBS pilin subunits and the presence of a conserved Cna_B domain, in different pilin components. Our idea was to investigate if, using pilus conserved domains, a broad coverage vaccine against streptococcal infection could be possible.


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