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    Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) is a common bacterial colonizer of the human nasopharynx but can occasionally cause very severe systemic infections with rapid onset. Meningococci are able to degrade IgA encountered during colonization of mucosal membranes using their IgA1-specific serine protease. During systemic infection, specific IgG can induce complement-mediated lysis of the bacterium. However, meningococcal immune evasion mechanisms in thwarting IgG remain undescribed. In this study, we report for the first time that the meningococcal IgA1-specific serine protease is able to degrade IgG3 in addition to IgA. The IgG3 heavy chain is specifically cleaved in the lower hinge region thereby separating the antigen binding part from its effector binding part. Through molecular characterization, we demonstrate that meningococcal IgA1-specific serine protease of cleavage type 1 degrades both IgG3 and IgA, whereas cleavage type 2 only degrades IgA. Epidemiological analysis of 7581 clinical meningococcal isolates shows a significant higher proportion of cleavage type 1 among isolates from invasive cases compared to carrier cases, regardless of serogroup. Notably, serogroup W cc11 which is an increasing cause of invasive meningococcal disease globally harbors almost exclusively cleavage type 1 protease. Our study also shows an increasing prevalence of meningococcal isolates encoding IgA1P cleavage type 1 compared to cleavage type 2 during the observed decade (2010-2019). Altogether, our work describes a novel mechanism of IgG3 degradation by meningococci and its association to invasive meningococcal disease.


    Christian Spoerry, Jens Karlsson, Marie-Stephanie Aschtgen, Edmund Loh. Neisseria meningitidis IgA1-specific serine protease exhibits novel cleavage activity against IgG3. Virulence. 2021 Dec;12(1):389-403

    PMID: 33459578

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