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PLoS Pathog. 2019 Aug 1;15(8):e1007937. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007937. eCollection 2019 Aug.

The novel interaction between Neisseria gonorrhoeae TdfJ and human S100A7 allows gonococci to subvert host zinc restriction.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, VA, United States of America.
Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, VA, United States of America.
Departments of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.
Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States of America.
Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, United States of America.


Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes the sexually-transmitted infection gonorrhea, a global disease that is difficult to treat and for which there is no vaccine. This pathogen employs an arsenal of conserved outer membrane proteins called TonB-dependent transporters (TdTs) that allow the gonococcus to overcome nutritional immunity, the host strategy of sequestering essential nutrients away from invading bacteria to handicap infectious ability. N. gonorrhoeae produces eight known TdTs, of which four are utilized for acquisition of iron or iron chelates from host-derived proteins or xenosiderophores produced by other bacteria. Of the remaining TdTs, two of them, TdfH and TdfJ, facilitate zinc uptake. TdfH was recently shown to bind Calprotectin, a member of the S100 protein family, and subsequently extract its zinc, which is then internalized by N. gonorrhoeae. Like Calprotectin, other S100s are also capable of binding transition metals such as zinc and copper, and thus have demonstrated growth suppression of numerous other pathogens via metal sequestration. Considering the functional and structural similarities of the TdTs and of the S100s, as well as the upregulation in response to Zn limitation shown by TdfH and TdfJ, we sought to evaluate whether other S100s have the ability to support gonococcal growth by means of zinc acquisition and to frame this growth in the context of the TdTs. We found that both S100A7 and S10012 are utilized by N. gonorrhoeae as a zinc source in a mechanism that depends on the zinc transport system ZnuABC. Moreover, TdfJ binds directly to S100A7, from which it internalizes zinc. This interaction is restricted to the human version of S100A7, and zinc presence in S100A7 is required to fully support gonococcal growth. These studies highlight how gonococci co-opt human nutritional immunity, by presenting a novel interaction between TdfJ and human S100A7 for overcoming host zinc restriction.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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