Hypervariability generated by natural selection in an extracellular complement-inhibiting protein of serotype M1 strains of group A Streptococcus

Kathryn E. Stockbauer, Diana Grigsby, Xi Pan, Yun Xin Fu, Luis M. Perea Mejia, Alejandro Cravioto, James M. Musser

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Abstract

In many countries, M1 strains of the human pathogenic bacterium group A Streptococcus are the most common serotype recovered from patients with invasive disease episodes. Strains of this serotype express an extracellular protein that inhibits complement [streptococcal inhibitor of complement (Sic)] and is therefore believed to be a virulence factor. Comparative sequence analysis of the 915-bp sic gene in 165 M1 organisms recovered from diverse localities and infection types identified 62 alleles. Inasmuch as multilocus enzyme electrophoresis and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis previously showed that most MI organisms represent a distinct streptococcal clone, the extent of sic gene polymorphism was unexpected. The level of polymorphism greatly exceeds that recorded for all other genes examined in serotype M1 strains. All insertions and deletions are in frame, and virtually all nucleotide substitutions alter the amino acid sequence of the Sic protein. These molecular features indicate that structural change in Sic is mediated by natural selection. Study of 70 strains recovered from two temporally distinct epidemics of streptococcal infections in the former East Germany found little sharing of Sic variants among strains recovered in the different time periods. Taken together, the data indicate that sic is a uniquely variable gene and provide insight into a potential molecular mechanism contributing to fluctuations in streptococcal disease frequency and severity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3128-3133
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume95
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 17 1998

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