10 April 2018
Gram-positive bacteria, including the major respiratory pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae, were recently shown to produce extracellular vesicles (EVs) that likely originate from the plasma membrane and are released into the extracellular environment. EVs may function as cargo for many bacterial proteins, however, their involvement in cellular processes and their interactions with the innate immune system are poorly understood. Here, EVs from pneumococci were characterized and their immunomodulatory effects investigated. Pneumococcal EVs were protruding from the bacterial surface and released into the medium as 25 to 250 nm lipid stained vesicles containing a large number of cytosolic, membrane, and surface-associated proteins. The cytosolic pore-forming toxin pneumolysin was significantly enriched in EVs compared to a total bacterial lysate but was not required for EV formation. Pneumococcal EVs were internalized into A549 lung epithelial cells and human monocyte-derived dendritic cells and induced proinflammatory cytokine responses irrespective of pneumolysin content. EVs from encapsulated pneumococci were recognized by serum proteins, resulting in C3b deposition and formation of C5b-9 membrane attack complexes as well as factor H recruitment, depending on the presence of the choline binding protein PspC. Addition of EVs to human serum decreased opsonophagocytic killing of encapsulated pneumococci. Our data suggest that EVs may act in an immunomodulatory manner by allowing delivery of vesicle-associated proteins and other macromolecules into host cells. In addition, EVs expose targets for complement factors in serum, promoting pneumococcal evasion of humoral host defense.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality worldwide, being the major cause of milder respiratory tract infections such as otitis and sinusitis and of severe infections such as community-acquired pneumonia, with or without septicemia, and meningitis. More knowledge is needed on how pneumococci interact with the host, deliver virulence factors, and activate immune defenses. Here we show that pneumococci form extracellular vesicles that emanate from the plasma membrane and contain virulence properties, including enrichment of pneumolysin. We found that pneumococcal vesicles can be internalized into epithelial and dendritic cells and bind complement proteins, thereby promoting pneumococcal evasion of complement-mediated opsonophagocytosis. They also induce pneumolysin-independent proinflammatory responses. We suggest that these vesicles can function as a mechanism for delivery of pneumococcal proteins and other immunomodulatory components into host cells and help pneumococci to avoid complement deposition and phagocytosis-mediated killing, thereby possibly contributing to the symptoms found in pneumococcal infections.