Group A Streptococcus (GAS), a Gram-positive human-specific pathogen, yields 517,000 deaths annually worldwide, including 163,000 due to invasive infections and among them puerperal fever. Before efficient prophylactic measures were introduced, the mortality rate for mothers during childbirth was approximately 10%; puerperal fever still accounts for over 75,000 maternal deaths annually. Yet, little is known regarding the factors and mechanisms of GAS invasion and establishment in postpartum infection. We characterized the early steps of infection in an ex vivo infection model of the human decidua, the puerperal fever portal of entry. Coordinate analysis of GAS behavior and the immune response led us to demonstrate that (a) GAS growth was stimulated by tissue products; (b) GAS invaded tissue and killed approximately 50% of host cells within 2 hours, and these processes required SpeB protease and streptolysin O (SLO) activities, respectively; and (c) GAS impaired the tissue immune response. Immune impairment occurred both at the RNA level, with only partial induction of the innate immune response, and protein level, in an SLO- and SpeB-dependent manner. Our study indicates that efficient GAS invasion of the decidua and the restricted host immune response favored its propensity to develop rapid invasive infections in a gynecological-obstetrical context.
Antonin Weckel, Thomas Guilbert, Clara Lambert, Céline Plainvert, François Goffinet, Claire Poyart, Céline Méhats, Agnès Fouet