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MBio. 2011 Aug 30;2(5). pii: e00178-11. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00178-11. Print 2011.

Linkage specificity and role of properdin in activation of the alternative complement pathway by fungal glycans.

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Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.


Fungal cell walls are predominantly composed of glucans, mannans, and chitin. Recognition of these glycans by the innate immune system is a critical component of host defenses against the mycoses. Complement, an important arm of innate immunity, plays a significant role in fungal pathogenesis, especially the alternative pathway (AP). Here we determine that the glycan monosaccharide composition and glycosidic linkages affect AP activation and C3 deposition. Furthermore, properdin, a positive regulator of the AP, contributes to these functions. AP activation by glycan particles that varied in composition and linkage was measured by C3a generation in serum treated with 10 mM EGTA and 10 mM Mg(2+) (Mg-EGTA-treated serum) (AP specific; properdin functional) or Mg-EGTA-treated serum that lacked functional properdin. Particles that contained either β1→3 or β1→6 glucans or both generated large and similar amounts of C3a when the AP was intact. Blocking properdin function resulted in 5- to 10-fold-less C3a production by particulate β1→3 glucans. However, particulate β1→6 glucans generated C3a via the AP only in the presence of intact properdin. Interestingly, zymosan and glucan-mannan particles (GMP), which contain both β-glucans and mannans, also required properdin to generate C3a. The β1→4 glycans chitin and chitosan minimally activated C3 even when properdin was functional. Finally, properdin binding to glucan particles (GP) and zymosan in serum required active C3. Properdin colocalized with bound C3, suggesting that in the presence of serum, properdin bound indirectly to glycans through C3 convertases. These findings provide a better understanding of how properdin facilitates AP activation by fungi through interaction with the cell wall components.


Invasive fungal infections have increased in incidence with the widespread use of immunosuppressive therapy and invasive procedures. Activation of the complement system contributes to innate immunity against fungi by generating chemoattractants that recruit white blood cells and by coating the pathogen with complement fragments that "mark" them for phagocytosis. The fungal cell wall activates complement in an antibody-independent manner through the alternative pathway (AP). Properdin is a positive regulator of the AP. This study elucidates how the specificity of cell wall glycan linkages affects AP activation and the role properdin plays in this process. Particulate β1→3 glucans activated the AP even in the absence of properdin, while β1→6 glucans required properdin for AP activation. In contrast, the β1→4 glycans chitin and chitosan failed to activate the AP. These findings enhance our mechanistic understanding of how fungi activate complement and have implications for the use of glycans in biomedical applications.

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