Bacterial killing by complement requires direct anchoring of membrane attack complex precursor C5b-7

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Jun 22;16(6):e1008606. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008606. eCollection 2020 Jun.


An important effector function of the human complement system is to directly kill Gram-negative bacteria via Membrane Attack Complex (MAC) pores. MAC pores are assembled when surface-bound convertase enzymes convert C5 into C5b, which together with C6, C7, C8 and multiple copies of C9 forms a transmembrane pore that damages the bacterial cell envelope. Recently, we found that bacterial killing by MAC pores requires local conversion of C5 by surface-bound convertases. In this study we aimed to understand why local assembly of MAC pores is essential for bacterial killing. Here, we show that rapid interaction of C7 with C5b6 is required to form bactericidal MAC pores on Escherichia coli. Binding experiments with fluorescently labelled C6 show that C7 prevents release of C5b6 from the bacterial surface. Moreover, trypsin shaving experiments and atomic force microscopy revealed that this rapid interaction between C7 and C5b6 is crucial to efficiently anchor C5b-7 to the bacterial cell envelope and form complete MAC pores. Using complement-resistant clinical E. coli strains, we show that bacterial pathogens can prevent complement-dependent killing by interfering with the anchoring of C5b-7. While C5 convertase assembly was unaffected, these resistant strains blocked efficient anchoring of C5b-7 and thus prevented stable insertion of MAC pores into the bacterial cell envelope. Altogether, these findings provide basic molecular insights into how bactericidal MAC pores are assembled and how bacteria evade MAC-dependent killing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Bactericidal Activity*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Complement C5 / metabolism*
  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex / metabolism*
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans


  • Complement C5
  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex
  • complement C5b-6 complex
  • complement C5b-7 complex
  • Complement System Proteins