Neutrophils Select Hypervirulent CovRS Mutants of M1T1 Group A Streptococcus during Subcutaneous Infection of Mice


Pathogen mutants arise during infections. Mechanisms of selection for pathogen variants are poorly understood. We tested whether neutrophils select mutations in the two-component regulatory system CovRS of group A Streptococcus (GAS) during infection using the lack of production of the protease SpeB (SpeB activity negative [SpeBA−]) as a marker. Depletion of neutrophils by antibodies RB6-8C5 and 1A8 reduced the percentage of SpeBA− variants (SpeBA−%) recovered from mice infected with GAS strain MGAS2221 by >76%. Neutrophil recruitment and SpeBA−% among recovered GAS were reduced by 95% and 92%, respectively, in subcutaneous MGAS2221 infection of CXCR2−/− mice compared with control mice. In air sac infection with MGAS2221, levels of neutrophils and macrophages in lavage fluid were reduced by 49% and increased by 287%, respectively, in CXCR2−/− mice compared with control mice, implying that macrophages play an insignificant role in the reduction of selection for SpeBA− variants in CXCR2−/− mice. One randomly chosen SpeBA− mutant outcompeted MGAS2221 in normal mice but was outcompeted by MGAS2221 in neutropenic mice and had enhancements in expression of virulence factors, innate immune evasion, skin invasion, and virulence. This and nine other SpeBA− variants from a mouse all had nonsynonymous covRS mutations that resulted in the SpeBA− phenotype and enhanced expression of the CovRS-controlled secreted streptococcal esterase (SsE). Our findings are consistent with a model that neutrophils select spontaneous covRS mutations that maximize the potential of GAS to evade neutrophil responses, resulting in variants with enhanced survival and virulence. To our knowledge, this is the first report of the critical contribution of neutrophils to the selection of pathogen variants.




Li, J., G. Liu, W. Feng, Y. Zhou, M. Liu, J. A. Wiley, and B. Lei. “Neutrophils Select Hypervirulent CovRS Mutants of M1T1 Group A Streptococcus During Subcutaneous Infection of Mice.” Infection and Immunity 82, no. 4 (January 22, 2014): 1579–1590. doi:10.1128/iai.01458-13.
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