Prominent Binding of Human and Equine Fibrinogen to Streptococcus equi subsp. zooepidemicus Is Mediated by Specific SzM Types and Is a Distinct Phenotype of Zoonotic Isolates

Infect Immun. 2019 Dec 17;88(1):e00559-19. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00559-19. Print 2019 Dec 17.


Streptococcus equi subsp. zooepidemicus is an important pathogen in horses that causes severe diseases such as pneumonia and abortion. Furthermore, it is a zoonotic agent, and contact with horses is a known risk factor. In this study, we investigated the working hypothesis that the zoonotic potential varies among S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus strains in association with differences in M-like protein-mediated binding of host plasma proteins. We demonstrate via in-frame deletion mutagenesis of two different S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus strains that the M-like protein SzM is crucial for the binding of fibrinogen to the bacterial surface and for survival in equine and human blood. S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus isolates of equine and human origins were compared with regard to SzM sequences and binding of equine and human fibrinogens. The N-terminal 216 amino acids of the mature SzM were found to exhibit a high degree of diversity, but the majority of human isolates grouped in three distinct SzM clusters. Plasma protein absorption assays and flow cytometry analysis revealed that pronounced binding of human fibrinogen is a common phenotype of human S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus isolates but much less so in equine S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus isolates. Furthermore, binding of human fibrinogen is associated with specific SzM types. These results suggest that SzM-mediated binding of human fibrinogen is an important virulence mechanism of zoonotic S. equi subsp. zooepidemicus isolates.

Keywords: M-like proteins; fibrinogen binding; survival in blood; szm deletion mutant; whole-blood bactericidal assay; zoonosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / classification
  • Antigens, Bacterial / genetics
  • Antigens, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / classification
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins / classification
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Fibrinogen / metabolism*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Horses
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Binding
  • Sequence Homology
  • Streptococcus equi / metabolism*
  • Virulence Factors / classification
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Virulence Factors
  • streptococcal M protein
  • Fibrinogen