Bacterial determinants of persistent throat colonization and the associated immune response in a primate model of human group A streptococcal pharyngeal infection

Cell Microbiol. 2000 Aug;2(4):283-92. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-5822.2000.00050.x.


Group A streptococcal (GAS) pharyngitis and the subsequent bacterial colonization of the human throat elicit an immune response that may precipitate acute rheumatic fever in a susceptible host. To study the bacterial determinants that influence throat colonization and induction of humoral immunity, we characterized the behavior of GAS strains in a baboon model. An M-type 3 clinical isolate of GAS typical of strains that cause pharyngitis and invasive infection was recovered from the pharynx of six out of six baboons for at least 6 weeks after oral inoculation. By contrast, an isogenic mutant deficient in M protein failed to colonize most animals or was rapidly cleared. An isogenic mutant deficient in hyaluronic acid capsule colonized five out of six animals, but only persisted in the pharynx for 14-21 days. Colonized animals developed serum antistreptolysin O (SLO) and anti-M protein immunoglobulin (Ig)G. The kinetics of the antibody responses were similar to those seen after human infection. Peak titres increased with the duration of throat carriage. Colonization with GAS prevented recurrent colonization after challenge with the homologous wild-type strain, but not after challenge with a strain of different M protein type. Early clearance of the M protein-deficient strain was associated with increased susceptibility of this strain to phagocytic killing in non-immune serum, whereas clearance of the acapsular strain was associated with increased susceptibility to phagocytic killing in the presence of specific antibody. These studies support critical and distinct effects of the GAS M protein and capsule on throat colonization and induction of humoral immunity in a model that reproduces important features of pharyngeal colonization and immune response following human infection.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Bacterial Capsules / chemistry
  • Bacterial Capsules / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / deficiency
  • Hyaluronic Acid / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Papio
  • Phagocytosis
  • Pharyngitis / blood
  • Pharyngitis / immunology
  • Pharyngitis / microbiology*
  • Streptococcal Infections / blood
  • Streptococcal Infections / immunology
  • Streptococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Streptococcus pyogenes* / chemistry
  • Streptococcus pyogenes* / genetics
  • Streptolysins / immunology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Streptolysins
  • Hyaluronic Acid