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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Apr;40(1):99-114.

The role played by the group A streptococcal negative regulator Nra on bacterial interactions with epithelial cells.

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Department of Microbial Pathogenicity and Vaccine Research, Division of Microbiology, GBF-German Research Centre for Biotechnology, Mascheroder Weg 1, D-38124 Braunschweig, Germany.


Group A streptococci (GAS) specifically attach to and internalize into human epithelial host cells. In some GAS isolates, fibronectin-binding proteins were identified as being responsible for these virulence traits. In the present study, the previously identified global negative regulator Nra was shown to control the binding of soluble fibronectin probably via regulation of protein F2 and/or SfbII expression in the serotype M49 strain 591. According to results from a conventional invasion assay based on the recovery of viable intracellular bacteria, the increased fibronectin binding did not affect bacterial adherence to HEp-2 epithelial cells, but was associated with a reduction in the internalization rates. However, when examined by confocal and electron microscopy techniques, the nra-mutant bacteria were shown to exhibit higher adherence and internalization rates than the corresponding wild type. The mutant bacteria escaped from the phagocytic vacuoles much faster, promoting consistent morphological changes which resulted in severe host cell damage. The apoptotic and lytic processes observed in nra-mutant infected host cells were correlated with an increased expression of the genes encoding superantigen SpeA, the cysteine protease SpeB, and streptolysin S in the nra-mutant bacteria. Adherence and internalization rates of a nra/speB-double mutant at wild-type levels indicated that the altered speB expression in the nra mutant contributed to the observed changes in both processes. The Nra-dependent effects on bacterial virulence were confined to infections carried out with stationary growth phase bacteria. In conclusion, the obtained results demonstrated that the global GAS regulator Nra modulates virulence genes, which are involved in host cell damage. Thus, by helping to achieve a critical balance of virulence factor expression that avoids the injury of target cells, Nra may facilitate GAS persistence in a safe intracellular niche.

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