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Infect Immun. 2014 Jan;82(1):233-42. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00916-13. Epub 2013 Oct 21.

Streptococcus pyogenes arginine and citrulline catabolism promotes infection and modulates innate immunity.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.


A bacterium's ability to acquire nutrients from its host during infection is an essential component of pathogenesis. For the Gram-positive pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, catabolism of the amino acid arginine via the arginine deiminase (ADI) pathway supplements energy production and provides protection against acid stress in vitro. Its expression is enhanced in murine models of infection, suggesting an important role in vivo. To gain insight into the function of the ADI pathway in pathogenesis, the virulence of mutants defective in each of its enzymes was examined. Mutants unable to use arginine (ΔArcA) or citrulline (ΔArcB) were attenuated for carriage in a murine model of asymptomatic mucosal colonization. However, in a murine model of inflammatory infection of cutaneous tissue, the ΔArcA mutant was attenuated but the ΔArcB mutant was hyperattenuated, revealing an unexpected tissue-specific role for citrulline metabolism in pathogenesis. When mice defective for the arginine-dependent production of nitric oxide (iNOS(-/-)) were infected with the ΔArcA mutant, cutaneous virulence was rescued, demonstrating that the ability of S. pyogenes to utilize arginine was dispensable in the absence of nitric oxide-mediated innate immunity. This work demonstrates the importance of arginine and citrulline catabolism and suggests a novel mechanism of virulence by which S. pyogenes uses its metabolism to modulate innate immunity through depletion of an essential host nutrient.

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