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MBio. 2015 Mar 10;6(2):e00133. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00133-15.

A group A Streptococcus ADP-ribosyltransferase toxin stimulates a protective interleukin 1β-dependent macrophage immune response.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.
  • 2Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.


The M1T1 clone of group A Streptococcus (GAS) is associated with severe invasive infections, including necrotizing fasciitis and septicemia. During invasive M1T1 GAS disease, mutations in the covRS regulatory system led to upregulation of an ADP-ribosyltransferase, SpyA. Surprisingly, a GAS ΔspyA mutant was resistant to killing by macrophages and caused higher mortality with impaired bacterial clearance in a mouse intravenous challenge model. GAS expression of SpyA triggered macrophage cell death in association with caspase-1-dependent interleukin 1β (IL-1β) production, and differences between wild-type (WT) and ΔspyA GAS macrophage survival levels were lost in cells lacking caspase-1, NOD-like receptor protein 3 (NLRP3), apoptosis-associated speck-like protein (ASC), or pro-IL-1β. Similar in vitro findings were identified in macrophage studies performed with pseudomonal exotoxin A, another ADP-ribosylating toxin. Thus, SpyA triggers caspase-1-dependent inflammatory cell death in macrophages, revealing a toxin-triggered IL-1β-dependent innate immune response pathway critical in defense against invasive bacterial infection.


Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is a leading human pathogen capable of producing invasive infections even in healthy individuals. GAS bacteria produce a toxin called SpyA that modifies host proteins through a process called ADP ribosylation. We describe how macrophages, frontline defenders of the host innate immune system, respond to SpyA by undergoing a specialized form of cell death in which they are activated to release the proinflammatory cytokine molecule interleukin 1β (IL-1β). Release of IL-1β activates host immune cell clearance of GAS, as we demonstrated in tissue culture models of macrophage bacterial killing and in vivo mouse infectious-challenge experiments. Similar macrophage responses to a related toxin of Pseudomonas bacteria were also shown. Thus, macrophages recognize certain bacterial toxins to activate a protective immune response in the host.

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