Microbes and infection

Capsular switching as a strategy to increase pneumococcal virulence in experimental otitis media model.

PMID 24361902


We hypothesized that capsular switch event, in which pneumococcus acquires a new capsule operon by horizontal gene transfer, may result in emergence of strains with increased virulence in acute otitis media. Using serotype 6A strain from a patient with invasive pneumococcal disease and clonally distant serotype 6C strain isolated from asymptomatic carrier we created 6A:6C (6A background with 6C capsule) capsular transformants and applied whole genome macro-restriction analysis to assess conservation of the 6A chassis. Next, we assessed complement (C3) and antibodies deposition on surface of pneumococcal cells and tested capsule recipient, capsule donor and two 6A:6C transformants for virulence in chinchilla experimental otitis media model. Both 6A:6C(1 or 2) transformants bound less C3 compared to 6C capsule-donor strain but more compared to serotype 6A capsule-recipient strain. Pneumococci were present in significantly higher proportion of ears among animals challenged with either of two 6A:6C(1 or 2) transformants compared to chinchillas infected with 6C capsule-donor strain [p < 0.001] whereas a significantly decreased proportion of ears were infected with 6A:6C(1 or 2) transformants as compared to 6A capsule-recipient strain. Our observations though limited to two serotypes demonstrate that capsular switch events can result in Streptococcus pneumoniae strains of enhanced virulence for respiratory tract infection.