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      Pneumococcal virulence factors: structure and function.

      Microbiology and molecular biology reviews : MMBR
      American Society for Microbiology

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          The overall goal for this review is to summarize the current body of knowledge about the structure and function of major known antigens of Streptococcus pneumoniae, a major gram-positive bacterial pathogen of humans. This information is then related to the role of these proteins in pneumococcal pathogenesis and in the development of new vaccines and/or other antimicrobial agents. S. pneumoniae is the most common cause of fatal community-acquired pneumonia in the elderly and is also one of the most common causes of middle ear infections and meningitis in children. The present vaccine for the pneumococcus consists of a mixture of 23 different capsular polysaccharides. While this vaccine is very effective in young adults, who are normally at low risk of serious disease, it is only about 60% effective in the elderly. In children younger than 2 years the vaccine is ineffective and is not recommended due to the inability of this age group to mount an antibody response to the pneumococcal polysaccharides. Antimicrobial drugs such as penicillin have diminished the risk from pneumococcal disease. Several pneumococcal proteins including pneumococcal surface proteins A and C, hyaluronate lyase, pneumolysin, autolysin, pneumococcal surface antigen A, choline binding protein A, and two neuraminidase enzymes are being investigated as potential vaccine or drug targets. Essentially all of these antigens have been or are being investigated on a structural level in addition to being characterized biochemically. Recently, three-dimensional structures for hyaluronate lyase and pneumococcal surface antigen A became available from X-ray crystallography determinations. Also, modeling studies based on biophysical measurements provided more information about the structures of pneumolysin and pneumococcal surface protein A. Structural and biochemical studies of these pneumococcal virulence factors have facilitated the development of novel antibiotics or protein antigen-based vaccines as an alternative to polysaccharide-based vaccines for the treatment of pneumococcal disease.

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