Background: Maternal vaginal colonization with Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus [GBS]) is a precursor to chorioamnionitis, fetal infection, and neonatal sepsis, but the understanding of specific factors in the pathogenesis of ascending infection remains limited.
Methods: We used a new murine model to evaluate the contribution of the pore-forming GBS β-hemolysin/cytolysin (βH/C) to vaginal colonization, ascension, and fetal infection.
Results: Competition assays demonstrated a marked advantage to βH/C-expressing GBS during colonization. Intrauterine fetal demise and/or preterm birth were observed in 54% of pregnant mice colonized with wild-type (WT) GBS and 0% of those colonized with the toxin-deficient cylE knockout strain, despite efficient colonization and ascension by both strains. Robust placental inflammation, disruption of maternal-fetal barriers, and fetal infection were more frequent in animals colonized with WT bacteria. Histopathologic examination revealed bacterial tropism for fetal lung and liver.
Conclusions: Preterm birth and fetal demise are likely the direct result of toxin-induced damage and inflammation rather than differences in efficiency of ascension into the upper genital tract. These data demonstrate a distinct contribution of βH/C to GBS chorioamnionitis and subsequent fetal infection in vivo and showcase a model for this most proximal step in GBS pathogenesis.
Keywords: Streptococcus agalactiae; chorioamnionitis; perinatal infection; toxin.
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