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Microbiology. 2012 Mar;158(Pt 3):771-80. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.053603-0. Epub 2012 Jan 5.

Heterologous expression of pneumococcal virulence factor PspC on the surface of Lactococcus lactis confers adhesive properties.

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  • 1Department of Genetics of Microorganisms, Interfaculty Institute for Genetics and Functional Genomics, Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.


Lactococcus lactis is a non-pathogenic bacterium that is used in the food industry but is also used as a heterologous host to reveal protein functions of pathogenic bacteria. The adhesin PspC from Streptococcus pneumoniae is a choline-binding protein that is non-covalently anchored to the bacterial cell wall. To assess the exclusive impact of pneumococcal surface protein C (PspC) on the interplay with its host we generated recombinant L. lactis producing a nisin-inducible and covalently anchored variant of PspC on the lactococcal cell surface. A translational fusion of the 5'-end of pspC3.4 with the 3'-end of hic (pspC11.4) was designed to decorate the surface of L. lactis with a chimeric PspC. The PspC3.4 part comprises the first 281 aa residues of PspC3.4, while the Hic sequence consists of the proline-rich and sortase-anchored domain. The results demonstrated that PspC is sufficient for adhesion and subsequent invasion of host epithelial cells expressing the human polymeric Ig receptor (hpIgR). Moreover, invasion via hpIgR was even more pronounced when the chimeric PspC was produced by lactococci compared with pneumococci. This study shows also for the first time that PspC plays no significant role during phagocytosis by macrophages. In contrast, recruitment of Factor H via the PspC chimer has a dramatic effect on phagocytosis of recombinant but not wild-type lactococci, as Factor H interacts specifically with the amino-terminal part of PspC and mediates the contact with phagocytes. Furthermore, L. lactis expressing PspC increased intracellular calcium levels in pIgR-expressing epithelial cells, thus resembling the effect of pneumococci, which induced release of Ca(2+) from intracellular stores via the PspC-pIgR mechanism. In conclusion, expression of the chimeric PspC confers adhesive properties to L. lactis and indicates the potential of L. lactis as a suitable host to study the impact of individual bacterial factors on their capacity to interfere with the host and manipulate eukaryotic epithelial cells.

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