Group A streptococci are common human pathogens that cause a variety of infections. They express M proteins which are important cell wall-bound type-specific virulence factors. We have found that a set of strains, associated primarily with skin infections, express M proteins that bind plasminogen and plasmin with high affinity. The binding is mediated by a 13-amino-acid internal repeated sequence located in the N-terminal surface-exposed portion of these M proteins. This sequence binds to kringle 2 in plasminogen, a domain that is not involved in the interaction with streptokinase, a potent group A streptococcal activator of plasminogen. It could be demonstrated that plasminogen, absorbed from plasma by growing group A streptococci expressing the plasminogen-binding M proteins, could be activated by exogenous and endogenous streptokinase, thereby providing the bacteria with a surface-associated enzyme that could act on the tissue barriers in the infected host.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.