PLoS neglected tropical diseases

Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum TP0136 protein is heterogeneous among isolates and binds cellular and plasma fibronectin via its NH2-terminal end.

PMID 25793702


Adherence-mediated colonization plays an important role in pathogenesis of microbial infections, particularly those caused by extracellular pathogens responsible for systemic diseases, such as Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum (T. pallidum), the agent of syphilis. Among T. pallidum adhesins, TP0136 is known to bind fibronectin (Fn), an important constituent of the host extracellular matrix. To deepen our understanding of the TP0136-Fn interaction dynamics, we used two naturally-occurring sequence variants of the TP0136 protein to investigate which region of the protein is responsible for Fn binding, and whether TP0136 would adhere to human cellular Fn in addition to plasma Fn and super Fn as previously reported. Fn binding assays were performed with recombinant proteins representing the two full-length TP0136 variants and their discrete regions. As a complementary approach, we tested inhibition of T. pallidum binding to Fn by recombinant full-length TP0136 proteins and fragments, as well as by anti-TP0136 immune sera. Our results show that TP0136 adheres more efficiently to cellular Fn than to plasma Fn, that the TP0136 NH2-terminal conserved region of the protein is primarily responsible for binding to plasma Fn but that binding sites for cellular Fn are also present in the protein's central and COOH-terminal regions. Additionally, message quantification studies show that tp0136 is highly transcribed during experimental infection, and that its message level increases in parallel to the host immune pressure on the pathogen, which suggests a possible role for this protein in T. pallidum persistence. In a time where syphilis incidence is high, our data will help in the quest to identify suitable targets for development of a much needed vaccine against this important disease.