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Review
. 2003;35(9):632-41.
doi: 10.1080/00365540310016259.

Proinflammatory Activity of Cell-Wall Constituents From Gram-Positive Bacteria

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Review

Proinflammatory Activity of Cell-Wall Constituents From Gram-Positive Bacteria

P Moreillon et al. Scand J Infect Dis. .

Abstract

Innate immunity reacts to conserved bacterial molecules. The outermost lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of Gram-negative organisms is highly inflammatory. It activates responsive cells via specific CD14 and toll-like receptor-4 (TLR4) surface receptor and co-receptors. Gram-positive bacteria do not contain LPS, but carry surface teichoic acids, lipoteichoic acids and peptidoglycan instead. Among these, the thick peptidoglycan is the most conserved. It also triggers cytokine release via CD14, but uses the TLR2 co-receptor instead of TLR4 used by LPS. Moreover, whole peptidoglycan is 1000-fold less active than LPS in a weight-to-weight ratio. This suggests either that it is not important for inflammation, or that only part of it is reactive while the rest acts as ballast. Biochemical dissection of Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae cell walls indicates that the second assumption is correct. Long, soluble peptidoglycan chains (approximately 125 kDa) are poorly active. Hydrolysing these chains to their minimal unit (2 sugars and a stem peptide) completely abrogates inflammation. Enzymatic dissection of the pneumococcal wall generated a mixture of highly active fragments, constituted of trimeric stem peptides, and poorly active fragments, constituted of simple monomers and dimers or highly polymerized structures. Hence, the optimal constraint for activation might be 3 cross-linked stem peptides. The importance of structural constraint was demonstrated in additional studies. For example, replacing the first L-alanine in the stem peptide with a D-alanine totally abrogated inflammation in experimental meningitis. Likewise, modifying the D-alanine decorations of lipoteichoic acids with L-alanine, or deacylating them from their diacylglycerol lipid anchor also decreased the inflammatory response. Thus, although considered as a broad-spectrum pattern-recognizing system, innate immunity can detect very subtle differences in Gram-positive walls. This high specificity underlines the importance of using well-characterized microbial material in investigating the system.

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