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M1T1 group A streptococcal pili promote epithelial colonization but diminish systemic virulence through neutrophil extracellular entrapment


Group A Streptococcus is a leading human pathogen associated with a diverse array of mucosal and systemic infections. Cell wall anchored pili were recently described in several species of pathogenic streptococci, and in the case of GAS, these surface appendages were demonstrated to facilitate epithelial cell adherence. Here we use targeted mutagenesis to evaluate the contribution of pilus expression to virulence of the globally disseminated M1T1 GAS clone, the leading agent of both GAS pharyngitis and severe invasive infections. We confirm that pilus expression promotes GAS adherence to pharyngeal cells, keratinocytes, and skin. However, in contrast to findings reported for group B streptococcal and pneumococcal pili, we observe that pilus expression reduces GAS virulence in murine models of necrotizing fasciitis, pneumonia and sepsis, while decreasing GAS survival in human blood. Further analysis indicated the systemic virulence attenuation associated with pilus expression was not related to differences in phagocytic uptake, complement deposition or cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide sensitivity. Rather, GAS pili were found to induce neutrophil IL-8 production, promote neutrophil transcytosis of endothelial cells, and increase neutrophil release of DNA-based extracellular traps, ultimately promoting GAS entrapment and killing within these structures.

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