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PLoS Pathog. 2010 Jul 29;6(7):e1001027. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001027.

The meningococcal vaccine candidate neisserial surface protein A (NspA) binds to factor H and enhances meningococcal resistance to complement.

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.


Complement forms an important arm of innate immunity against invasive meningococcal infections. Binding of the alternative complement pathway inhibitor factor H (fH) to fH-binding protein (fHbp) is one mechanism meningococci employ to limit complement activation on the bacterial surface. fHbp is a leading vaccine candidate against group B Neisseria meningitidis. Novel mechanisms that meningococci employ to bind fH could undermine the efficacy of fHbp-based vaccines. We observed that fHbp deletion mutants of some meningococcal strains showed residual fH binding suggesting the presence of a second receptor for fH. Ligand overlay immunoblotting using membrane fractions from one such strain showed that fH bound to a approximately 17 kD protein, identified by MALDI-TOF analysis as Neisserial surface protein A (NspA), a meningococcal vaccine candidate whose function has not been defined. Deleting nspA, in the background of fHbp deletion mutants, abrogated fH binding and mAbs against NspA blocked fH binding, confirming NspA as a fH binding molecule on intact bacteria. NspA expression levels vary among strains and expression correlated with the level of fH binding; over-expressing NspA enhanced fH binding to bacteria. Progressive truncation of the heptose (Hep) I chain of lipooligosaccharide (LOS), or sialylation of lacto-N-neotetraose LOS both increased fH binding to NspA-expressing meningococci, while expression of capsule reduced fH binding to the strains tested. Similar to fHbp, binding of NspA to fH was human-specific and occurred through fH domains 6-7. Consistent with its ability to bind fH, deleting NspA increased C3 deposition and resulted in increased complement-dependent killing. Collectively, these data identify a key complement evasion mechanism with important implications for ongoing efforts to develop meningococcal vaccines that employ fHbp as one of its components.

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