Nontypeable pneumococci can be divided into multiple cps types, including one type expressing the novel gene pspK
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Although virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae is associated with its capsule, some pathogenic S. pneumoniae isolates lack capsules and are serologically nontypeable (NT). We obtained 64 isolates that were identified as NT “pneumococci” (i.e., bacteria satisfying the conventional definition but without the multilocus sequence typing [MLST]-based definition of S. pneumoniae) by the traditional criteria. All 64 were optochin sensitive and had lytA, and 63 had ply. Twelve isolates had cpsA, suggesting the presence of a conventional but defective capsular polysaccharide synthesis (cps) locus. The 52 cpsA-negative isolates could be divided into three null capsule clades (NCC) based on aliC (aliB-like ORF1), aliD (aliB-like ORF2), and our newly discovered gene, pspK, in their cps loci. pspK encodes a protein with a long alpha-helical region containing an LPxTG motif and a YPT motif known to bind human pIgR. There were nine isolates in NCC1 (pspK but negative for aliC and aliD), 32 isolates in NCC2 (aliC aliD but negative for pspK), and 11 in NCC3 (aliD but negative for aliC and pspK). Among 52 cpsA-negative isolates, 41 were identified as S. pneumoniae by MLST analysis. All NCC1 and most NCC2 isolates were S. pneumoniae, whereas all nine NCC3 and two NCC2 isolates were not S. pneumoniae. Several NCC1 and NCC2 isolates from multiple individuals had identical MLST and cps regions, showing that unencapsulated S. pneumoniae can be infectious among humans. Furthermore, NCC1 and NCC2 S. pneumoniae isolates could colonize mice as well as encapsulated S. pneumoniae, although S. pneumoniae with an artificially disrupted cps locus did not. Moreover, an NCC1 isolate with pspK deletion did not colonize mice, suggesting that pspK is critical for colonization. Thus, PspK may provide pneumococci a means of surviving in the nasopharynx without capsule.
IN, Ho Park et. al. Nontypeable pneumococci can be divided into multiple cps types, including one type expressing the novel gene pspK. mBio, Washington, v. 3, n. 3, e00035-12, 2012.