Mycoplasmas are "minimal" bacteria able to infect humans, wildlife, and a large number of economically important livestock species. Mycoplasma infections include a spectrum of clinical manifestations ranging from simple fever to fulminant inflammatory diseases with high mortality rates. These infections are mostly chronic, suggesting that mycoplasmas have developed means to evade the host immune response. Here we present and functionally characterize a two-protein system from Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies capri that is involved in the capture and cleavage of IgG. The first component, Mycoplasma Ig binding protein (MIB), is an 83-kDa protein that is able to tightly bind to the Fv region of a wide range of IgG. The second component, Mycoplasma Ig protease (MIP), is a 97-kDa serine protease that is able to cleave off the VH domain of IgG. We demonstrate that MIB is necessary for the proteolytic activity of MIP. Cleavage of IgG requires a sequential interaction of the different partners of the system: first MIB captures the IgG, and then MIP is recruited to the MIB-IgG complex, enabling protease activity. MIB and MIP are encoded by two genes organized in tandem, with homologs found in the majority of pathogenic mycoplasmas and often in multiple copies. Phylogenetic studies suggest that genes encoding the MIB-MIP system are specific to mycoplasmas and have been disseminated by horizontal gene transfer. These results highlight an original and complex system targeting the host immunoglobulins, playing a potentially key role in the immunity evasion by mycoplasmas.
Keywords: immunoglobulin; mycoplasmas; protease.