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FASEB J. 1999 Feb;13(2):331-7.

Invasive isolates of Neisseria meningitidis possess enhanced immunoglobulin A1 protease activity compared to colonizing strains.

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Division of Molecular and Genetic Medicine, The University of Sheffield, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, S10 2JF, United Kingdom.


Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, and Streptococcus pneumoniae possess the ability to cleave human IgA1 antibodies, and all successfully colonize and occasionally invade the human upper respiratory tract. N. meningitidis invades the bloodstream after a period of nasopharyngeal colonization. We directly compared levels of IgA1 protease activity in strains (n=52) derived from the cerebrospinal fluid or blood of patients with meningococcal disease with strains of N. meningitidis obtained from asymptomatic carriers (n=25). IgA1 protease activity was determined by a sensitive semiquantitative ELISA assay. Levels of IgA1 protease activity were significantly higher (P<0.0001) in strains associated with invasive meningococcal disease (98% with detectable activity, mean = 580 mU) than with those obtained from asymptomatic carriers (76% with detectable activity, mean = 280 mU). Despite marked variation in enzyme activity, almost all strains (96%) possessed the gene for IgA1 protease. Given the panmictic population structure of the bacterial isolates investigated, these data, obtained from two groups infected with N. meningitidis, but with markedly different clinical outcomes, provide the first quantitative evidence that IgA1 protease activity is a virulence determinant that contributes to the pathogenic phenotype, and suggest IgA1 protease as a potential target for prophylaxis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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