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PLoS Pathog. 2019 Dec 20;15(12):e1008232. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008232. eCollection 2019 Dec.

Ecotin, a microbial inhibitor of serine proteases, blocks multiple complement dependent and independent microbicidal activities of human serum.

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Department of Biochemistry, ELTE, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.
Department of Nephrology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, United States of America.
Department of Immunology, ELTE, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.
Institute of Enzymology, Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary.


Ecotin is a serine protease inhibitor produced by hundreds of microbial species, including pathogens. Here we show, that ecotin orthologs from Escherichia coli, Yersinia pestis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Leishmania major are potent inhibitors of MASP-1 and MASP-2, the two key activator proteases of the complement lectin pathway. Factor D is the key activator protease of another complement activation route, the alternative pathway. We show that ecotin inhibits MASP-3, which is the sole factor D activator in resting human blood. In pathway-specific ELISA tests, we found that all ecotin orthologs are potent lectin pathway inhibitors, and at high concentration, they block the alternative pathway as well. In flow cytometry experiments, we compared the extent of complement-mediated opsonization and lysis of wild-type and ecotin-knockout variants of two E. coli strains carrying different surface lipopolysaccharides. We show, that endogenous ecotin provides significant protections against these microbicidal activities for both bacteria. By using pathway specific complement inhibitors, we detected classical-, lectin- and alternative pathway-driven complement attack from normal serum, with the relative contributions of the activation routes depending on the lipopolysaccharide type. Moreover, in cell proliferation experiments we observed an additional, complement-unrelated antimicrobial activity exerted by heat-inactivated serum. While ecotin-knockout cells are highly vulnerable to these activities, endogenous ecotin of wild-type bacteria provides complete protection against the lectin pathway-related and the complement-unrelated attack, and partial protection against the alternative pathway-related damage. In all, ecotin emerges as a potent, versatile self-defense tool that blocks multiple antimicrobial activities of the serum. These findings suggest that ecotin might be a relevant antimicrobial drug target.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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