Background & objectives: Streptococci produce a diverse range of secreted plasminogen activators capable of converting mammalian plasminogen to plasmin in a species-specific manner. In all examples to date, the host animal's plasminogen and that of a number of additional species have been shown to interact with these molecules leading to the conclusion that the pathogenesis of streptococci is in some way dependent upon activation of host plasminogen. PauA was the first plasminogen activator described from Streptococcus uberis, a pathogen frequently isolated from cases of bovine mastitis. Recently, a second S. uberis plasminogen activator (PauB) was identified from a Danish mastitis isolate. Interestingly, the pauB open reading frame occupied the locus normally filled by pauA. In the present study a genetic screen of streptococcal and field isolates frequently associated with mastitis was undertaken to assess the distribution, chromosomal location and sequence variation of these putative virulence factors.
Methods: Southern analysis of a diverse panel of streptococci and additional bacterial isolates frequently associated with bovine mastitis was performed using pauA and pauB probes. Sequence variation of PauA was assessed at the protein level following nucleotide sequence analysis of pauA alleles amplified from isolates picked from different geographical locations.
Results: We observed plasminogen activators to be universally distributed amongst S. uberis. A pauA allele was identified in all but one strain of S. uberis. This strain had a pauB allele substituted for pauA at the same locus. The remarkably low level of sequence variation demonstrated by PauA was further restricted to a limited number of residues within the molecule.
Interpretation & conclusion: The high prevalence of PauA alleles in field isolates of S.uberis supported the observation that plasminogen activators are likely to confer an advantage with respect to colonization and growth. The findings of the present study support the theory that PauA plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of S. uberis.