Impact of Glycan Linkage to Staphylococcus aureus Wall Teichoic Acid on Langerin Recognition and Langerhans Cell Activation

ACS Infect Dis. 2021 Mar 12;7(3):624-635. doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.0c00822. Epub 2021 Feb 16.


Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections. It remains incompletely understood how skin-resident immune cells respond to invading S. aureus and contribute to an effective immune response. Langerhans cells (LCs), the only professional antigen-presenting cell type in the epidermis, sense S. aureus through their pattern-recognition receptor langerin, triggering a proinflammatory response. Langerin recognizes the β-1,4-linked N-acetylglucosamine (β1,4-GlcNAc) but not α-1,4-linked GlcNAc (α1,4-GlcNAc) modifications, which are added by dedicated glycosyltransferases TarS and TarM, respectively, on the cell wall glycopolymer wall teichoic acid (WTA). Recently, an alternative WTA glycosyltransferase, TarP, was identified, which also modifies WTA with β-GlcNAc but at the C-3 position (β1,3-GlcNAc) of the WTA ribitol phosphate (RboP) subunit. Here, we aimed to unravel the impact of β-GlcNAc linkage position for langerin binding and LC activation. Using genetically modified S. aureus strains, we observed that langerin similarly recognized bacteria that produce either TarS- or TarP-modified WTA, yet tarP-expressing S. aureus induced increased cytokine production and maturation of in vitro-generated LCs compared to tarS-expressing S. aureus. Chemically synthesized WTA molecules, representative of the different S. aureus WTA glycosylation patterns, were used to identify langerin-WTA binding requirements. We established that β-GlcNAc is sufficient to confer langerin binding, thereby presenting synthetic WTA molecules as a novel glycobiology tool for structure-binding studies and for elucidating S. aureus molecular pathogenesis. Overall, our data suggest that LCs are able to sense all β-GlcNAc-WTA producing S. aureus strains, likely performing an important role as first responders upon S. aureus skin invasion.

Keywords: Langerhans cell; Staphylococcus aureus; glycosylation; langerin; pattern-recognition receptor; wall teichoic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Langerhans Cells
  • Polysaccharides
  • Staphylococcal Infections*
  • Staphylococcus aureus* / genetics
  • Teichoic Acids


  • Polysaccharides
  • Teichoic Acids