Group B streptococci (GBSs) are the leading cause of neonatal meningitis. GBSs enter the CNS by penetrating the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which consists of specialized human brain microvascular endothelial cells (hBMECs). To identify GBS factors required for BBB penetration, we generated random mutant libraries of a virulent strain and screened for loss of hBMEC invasion in vitro. Two independent hypo-invasive mutants possessed disruptions in the same gene, invasion associated gene (iagA), which encodes a glycosyltransferase homolog. Allelic replacement of iagA in the GBS chromosome produced a 4-fold decrease in hBMEC invasiveness. Mice challenged with the GBS ΔiagA mutant developed bacteremia comparably to WT mice, yet mortality was significantly lower (20% vs. 90%), as was the incidence of meningitis. The glycolipid diglucosyldiacylglycerol, a cell membrane anchor for lipoteichoic acid (LTA) and predicted product of the IagA glycosyltransferase, was absent in the ΔiagA mutant, which consequently shed LTA into the media. Attenuation of virulence of the ΔiagA mutant was found to be independent of TLR2-mediated signaling, but bacterial supernatants from the ΔiagA mutant containing released LTA inhibited hBMEC invasion by WT GBS. Our data suggest that LTA expression on the GBS surface plays a role in bacterial interaction with BBB endothelium and the pathogenesis of neonatal meningitis.


Kelly S. Doran, Erin J. Engelson, Arya Khosravi, Heather C. Maisey, Iris Fedtke, Ozlem Equils, Kathrin S. Michelsen, Moshe Arditi, Andreas Peschel, Victor Nizet


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