Structural insights into loss of function of a pore forming toxin and its role in pneumococcal adaptation to an intracellular lifestyle
The opportunistic pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae has dual lifestyles: one of an asymptomatic colonizer in the human nasopharynx and the other of a deadly pathogen invading sterile host compartments. The latter triggers an overwhelming inflammatory response, partly driven via pore forming activity of the cholesterol dependent cytolysin (CDC), pneumolysin. Although pneumolysin-induced inflammation drives person-to-person transmission from nasopharynx, the primary reservoir for pneumococcus, it
... or pneumococcus, it also contributes to high mortality rates, creating a bottleneck that hampers widespread bacterial dissemination, thus acting as a double-edged sword. Serotype 1 ST306, a widespread pneumococcal clone, harbours a non-hemolytic variant of pneumolysin (Ply-NH). Performing crystal structure analysis of Ply-NH, we identified Y150H and T172I as key substitutions responsible for loss of its pore forming activity. We uncovered a novel inter-molecular cation-π interaction, governing formation of the transmembrane β-hairpins (TMH) in the pore state of Ply, which can be extended to other CDCs. H150 in Ply-NH disrupts this interaction, while I172 provides structural rigidity to domain-3, through hydrophobic interactions, inhibiting TMH formation. Loss of pore forming activity enabled improved cellular invasion and autophagy evasion, promoting an atypical intracellular lifestyle for pneumococcus, a finding that was corroborated in in vivo infection models. Attenuation of inflammatory responses and tissue damage promoted tolerance of Ply-NH-expressing pneumococcus in the lower respiratory tract. Adoption of this altered lifestyle may be necessary for ST306 due to its limited nasopharyngeal carriage, with loss of pore forming ability of Ply facilitating a benign association of SPN in an alternative, intracellular host niche.