Streptococcus pyogenes is an exclusively human pathogen that can provoke mild skin and throat infections but can also cause fatal septicemia. This gram-positive bacterium has developed several strategies to evade the human immune system, enabling S. pyogenes to survive in the host. These strategies include recruiting several human plasma proteins, such as the complement inhibitor, C4b-binding protein (C4BP), and human (hu)-IgG through its Fc region to the bacterial surface to evade immune recognition. We identified a novel virulence mechanism whereby IgG-enhanced binding of C4BP to five of 12 tested S. pyogenes strains expressed diverse M proteins that are important surface-expressed virulence factors. Importantly, all strains that bound C4BP in the absence of IgG bound more C4BP when IgG was present. Further studies with an M1 strain that additionally expressed protein H, also a member of the M protein family, revealed that binding of hu-IgG Fc to protein H increased the affinity of protein H for C4BP. Increased C4BP binding accentuated complement downregulation, resulting in diminished bacterial killing. Accordingly, mortality from S. pyogenes infection in hu-C4BP transgenic mice was increased when hu-IgG or its Fc portion alone was administered concomitantly. Electron microscopy analysis of human tissue samples with necrotizing fasciitis confirmed increased C4BP binding to S. pyogenes when IgG was present. Our findings provide evidence of a paradoxical function of hu-IgG bound through Fc to diverse S. pyogenes isolates that increases their virulence and may counteract the beneficial effects of IgG opsonization.
- Immunologi inom det medicinska området