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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Dec 5, 1995; 92(25): 11490–11494.

Studies of group B streptococcal infection in mice deficient in complement component C3 or C4 demonstrate an essential role for complement in both innate and acquired immunity.


Group B streptococci (GBS) cause sepsis and meningitis in neonates and serious infections in adults with underlying chronic illnesses. Specific antibodies have been shown to be an important factor in protective immunity for neonates, but the role of serum complement is less well defined. To elucidate the function of the complement system in immunity to this pathogen, we have used the approach of gene targeting in embryonic stem cells to generate mice totally deficient in complement component C3. Comparison of C3-deficient mice with mice deficient in complement component C4 demonstrated that the 50% lethal dose for GBS infection was reduced by approximately 50-fold and 25-fold, respectively, compared to control mice. GBS were effectively killed in vitro by human blood leukocytes in the presence of specific antibody and C4-deficient serum but not C3-deficient serum. The defective opsonization by C3-deficient serum in vitro was corroborated by in vivo studies in which passive immunization of pregnant dams with specific antibodies conferred protection from GBS challenge to normal and C4-deficient pups but not C3-deficient pups. These results indicate that the alternative pathway is sufficient to mediate effective opsonophagocytosis and protective immunity to GBS in the presence of specific antibody. In contrast, the increased susceptibility to infection of non-immune mice deficient in either C3 or C4 implies that the classical pathway plays an essential role in host defense against GBS infection in the absence of specific immunity.

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