Acute rheumatic fever is a serious autoimmune sequel of Streptococcus pyogenes infection. This study shows that serotype M3 and M18 S. pyogenes isolated during outbreaks of rheumatic fever have the unique capability to bind and aggregate human basement membrane collagen type IV. M3 protein is identified as collagen-binding factor of M3 streptococci, whereas M18 isolates bind collagen through a hyaluronic acid capsule, revealing a novel function for M3 protein and capsule. Following in vivo mouse passage, conversion of a nonencapsulated and collagen-binding negative M1 S. pyogenes into an encapsulated, collagen-binding strain further supports the crucial role of capsule in mediating collagen binding. Collagen binding represents a novel colonization mechanism, as it is demonstrated that S. pyogenes bind to collagen matrix in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, immunization of mice with purified recombinant M3 protein led to the generation of anti–collagen type IV antibodies. Finally, sera from acute rheumatic fever patients had significantly increased titers of anti–collagen type IV antibodies as compared with healthy controls. These findings may suggest a link between the potential of rheumatogenic S. pyogenes isolates to bind collagen, and the presence of collagen-reactive autoantibodies in the serum of rheumatic fever patients, which may form a basis for post-streptococcal rheumatic disease. These anti-collagen antibodies may form a basis for poststreptococcal rheumatic disease.
Katrin Dinkla, Manfred Rohde, Wouter T.M. Jansen, Edward L. Kaplan, Gursharan S. Chhatwal, Susanne R. Talay