Components of bacterial peptidoglycans have potent biological activities, including adjuvant effects, cytotoxicity, and induction of sleep. Mixtures of peptidoglycan components also induce inflammation in the lung, subarachnoid space, and joint, but the structural requirements for activity are unknown. Using a rabbit model for meningitis, we determined the biological activities of 14 individual muramyl peptides constituting > 90% of the peptidoglycan of the gram-negative pediatric pathogen Haemophilus influenzae. Upon intracisternal inoculation, most of the muropeptides induced leukocytosis in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), influx of protein into CSF, or brain edema, alone or in combination. The disaccharide-tetrapeptide, the major component of all gram-negative peptidoglycans, induced CSF leukocytosis and protein influx at doses as low as 0.4 microgram (0.42 nM). Modification of the N-acetyl muramic acid or substitution of the alanine at position four in the peptide side chain decreased leukocytosis but enhanced brain edema. As the size of the muropeptide increased, the inflammatory activity decreased. Muropeptide carrying the diaminopimelyl-diaminopimelic acid cross-link specifically induced cytotoxic brain edema. These findings significantly expand the spectrum of biological activities of natural muramyl peptides and provide the basis for a structure-activity relationship for the inflammatory properties of bacterial muropeptides.
M Burroughs, E Rozdzinski, S Geelen, E Tuomanen