Dispersal of Group A Streptococcal Biofilms by the Cysteine Protease SpeB Leads to Increased Disease Severity in a Murine Model

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 25;6(4):e18984. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018984.


Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is a Gram-positive human pathogen best known for causing pharyngeal and mild skin infections. However, in the 1980's there was an increase in severe GAS infections including cellulitis and deeper tissue infections like necrotizing fasciitis. Particularly striking about this elevation in the incidence of severe disease was that those most often affected were previously healthy individuals. Several groups have shown that changes in gene content or regulation, as with proteases, may contribute to severe disease; yet strains harboring these proteases continue to cause mild disease as well. We and others have shown that group A streptococci (MGAS5005) reside within biofilms both in vitro and in vivo. That is to say that the organism colonizes a host surface and forms a 3-dimensional community encased in a protective matrix of extracellular protein, DNA and polysaccharide(s). However, the mechanism of assembly or dispersal of these structures is unclear, as is the relationship of these structures to disease outcome. Recently we reported that allelic replacement of the streptococcal regulator srv resulted in constitutive production of the streptococcal cysteine protease SpeB. We further showed that the constitutive production of SpeB significantly decreased MGAS5005Δsrv biofilm formation in vitro. Here we show that mice infected with MGAS5005Δsrv had significantly larger lesion development than wild-type infected animals. Histopathology, Gram-staining and immunofluorescence link the increased lesion development with lack of disease containment, lack of biofilm formation, and readily detectable levels of SpeB in the tissue. Treatment of MGAS5005Δsrv infected lesions with a chemical inhibitor of SpeB significantly reduced lesion formation and disease spread to wild-type levels. Furthermore, inactivation of speB in the MGAS5005Δsrv background reduced lesion formation to wild-type levels. Taken together, these data suggest a mechanism by which GAS disease may transition from mild to severe through the Srv mediated dispersal of GAS biofilms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / genetics
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Streptococcal Infections / enzymology*
  • Streptococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Streptococcus / enzymology*
  • Streptococcus / growth & development
  • Streptococcus / metabolism*
  • Streptococcus / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • streptopain