Complement evasion factor (CEF), a novel immune evasion factor of Streptococcus pyogenes

Virulence. 2022 Dec;13(1):225-240. doi: 10.1080/21505594.2022.2027629.


Streptococcus pyogenes, a leading human pathogen, is responsible for a wide range of diseases, including skin and soft tissue infections and severe invasive diseases. S. pyogenes produces a large arsenal of virulence factors, including several immune evasion factors. We have identified an open reading frame (spy0136) in the S. pyogenes SF370 genome encoding a protein of unknown function. Using recombinant Spy0136 in a pull-down assay with human plasma and ELISA, we have identified four complement proteins (C1r, C1s, C3, and C5) as binding partners. Treatment of the complement proteins with PNGase F abrogated binding to C1s, C3, and C5, indicating glycan-dependent interactions. rSpy0136 inhibited complement-mediated hemolysis and interfered with all three complement pathways in a Wieslab complement assay. Furthermore, rSpy0136 inhibited deposition of the C3b opsonin and the membrane attack complex (MAC) on the surface of S. pyogenes. We therefore named the previously unknown protein 'complement evasion factor' (CEF).An S. pyogenes Δspy0136/cef deletion mutant showed decreased virulence in an in-vitro whole blood killing assay and a Galleria mellonella (wax moth) infection model. Furthermore, an L. lactis spy0136/cef gain-of-function mutant showed increased survival during growth in whole human blood. Analysis of serum samples from patients with invasive S. pyogenes revealed Spy0136/CEF sero-conversion indicating expression during disease. In summary, we have identified a novel S. pyogenes immune evasion factor that binds to several complement proteins to interfere with complement function. This is the first example of a S. pyogenes virulence factor binding to several different target proteins via glycan-dependent interactions.

Keywords: Galleria mellonella infection model; Group A Streptococcus; Streptococcus pyogenes; complement; complement deposition; glycan-binding; immune evasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Complement System Proteins
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion
  • Streptococcal Infections*
  • Streptococcus pyogenes* / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Virulence Factors
  • Complement System Proteins

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Faculty Research Development Fund (FRDF) from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (FMHS), The University of Auckland.