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Infect Immun. 2009 Mar;77(3):1137-43. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01310-08. Epub 2008 Dec 29.

Immune evasion of leptospira species by acquisition of human complement regulator C4BP.

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Laboratório de Bacteriologia, Instituto Butantan, São Paulo, Brazil.


Leptospirosis is a spirochetal zoonotic disease of global distribution with a high incidence in tropical regions. In the last 15 years it has been recognized as an important emerging infectious disease due to the occurrence of large outbreaks in warm-climate countries and, occasionally, in temperate regions. Pathogenic leptospires efficiently colonize target organs after penetrating the host. Their invasiveness is attributed to the ability to multiply in blood, adhere to host cells, and penetrate into tissues. Therefore, they must be able to evade the innate host defense. The main purpose of the present study was to evaluate how several Leptospira strains evade the protective function of the complement system. The serum resistance of six Leptospira strains was analyzed. We demonstrate that the pathogenic strain isolated from infected hamsters avoids serum bactericidal activity more efficiently than the culture-attenuated or the nonpathogenic Leptospira strains. Moreover, both the alternative and the classical pathways of complement seem to be responsible for the killing of leptospires. Serum-resistant and serum-intermediate strains are able to bind C4BP, whereas the serum-sensitive strain Patoc I is not. Surface-bound C4BP promotes factor I-mediated cleavage of C4b. Accordingly, we found that pathogenic strains displayed reduced deposition of the late complement components C5 to C9 upon exposure to serum. We conclude that binding of C4BP contributes to leptospiral serum resistance against host complement.

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