Pneumococcal Capsules and Their Types: Past, Present, and Future

Clin Microbiol Rev. 2015 Jul;28(3):871-99. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00024-15.


Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is an important human pathogen. Its virulence is largely due to its polysaccharide capsule, which shields it from the host immune system, and because of this, the capsule has been extensively studied. Studies of the capsule led to the identification of DNA as the genetic material, identification of many different capsular serotypes, and identification of the serotype-specific nature of protection by adaptive immunity. Recent studies have led to the determination of capsular polysaccharide structures for many serotypes using advanced analytical technologies, complete elucidation of genetic basis for the capsular types, and the development of highly effective pneumococcal conjugate vaccines. Conjugate vaccine use has altered the serotype distribution by either serotype replacement or switching, and this has increased the need to serotype pneumococci. Due to great advances in molecular technologies and our understanding of the pneumococcal genome, molecular approaches have become powerful tools to predict pneumococcal serotypes. In addition, more-precise and -efficient serotyping methods that directly detect polysaccharide structures are emerging. These improvements in our capabilities will greatly enhance future investigations of pneumococcal epidemiology and diseases and the biology of colonization and innate immunity to pneumococcal capsules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Capsules / immunology*
  • Bacterial Vaccines / immunology
  • Bacterial Vaccines / standards
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / immunology
  • Serogroup
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / immunology*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / pathogenicity


  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial