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Group A Streptococcal M1 Protein Provides Resistance against the Antimicrobial Activity of Histones

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Histones are essential elements of chromatin structure and gene regulation in eukaryotes. An unexpected attribute of these nuclear proteins is their antimicrobial activity. A framework for histone release and function in host defense in vivo was revealed with the discovery of neutrophil extracellular traps, a specialized cell death process in which DNA-based structures containing histones are extruded to ensnare and kill bacteria. Investigating the susceptibility of various Gram-positive pathogens to histones, we found high-level resistance by one leading human pathogen, group A Streptococcus (GAS). A screen of isogenic mutants revealed that the highly surface-expressed M1 protein, a classical GAS virulence factor, was required for high-level histone resistance. Biochemical and microscopic analyses revealed that the N-terminal domain of M1 protein binds and inactivates histones before they reach their cell wall target of action. This finding illustrates a new pathogenic function for this classic GAS virulence factor, and highlights a potential innate immune evasion strategy that may be employed by other bacterial pathogens.

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