Capsule Promotes Intracellular Survival and Vascular Endothelial Cell Translocation during Invasive Pneumococcal Disease

Academic Article


  • The polysaccharide capsule that surrounds Streptococcus pneumoniae (Spn) is one of its most important virulence determinants, serving to protect against phagocytosis. To date, 100 biochemical and antigenically distinct capsule types, i.e., serotypes, of Spn have been identified. Yet how capsule influences pneumococcal translocation across vascular endothelial cells (VEC), a key step in the progression of invasive disease, was unknown. Here, we show that despite capsule being inhibitory of Spn uptake by VEC, capsule enhances the escape rate of internalized pneumococci and thereby promotes translocation. Upon investigation, we determined that capsule protected Spn against intracellular killing by VEC and H2O2-mediated killing in vitro. Using a nitroblue tetrazolium reduction assay and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analyses, purified capsule was confirmed as having antioxidant properties which varied according to serotype. Using an 11-member panel of isogenic capsule-switch mutants, we determined that serotype affected levels of Spn resistance to H2O2-mediated killing in vitro, with killing resistance correlated positively with survival duration within VEC, rate of transcytosis to the basolateral surface, and human attack rates. Experiments with mice supported our in vitro findings, with Spn producing oxidative-stress-resistant type 4 capsule being more organ-invasive than that producing oxidative-stress-sensitive type 2 capsule during bacteremia. Capsule-mediated protection against intracellular killing was also observed for Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. We conclude that capsular polysaccharide plays an important role within VEC, serving as an intracellular antioxidant, and that serotype-dependent differences in antioxidant capabilities impact the efficiency of VEC translocation and a serotype’s potential for invasive disease. IMPORTANCE Streptococcus pneumoniae (Spn) is the leading cause of invasive disease. Importantly, only a subset of the 100 capsule types carried by Spn cause the majority of serious infections, suggesting that the biochemical properties of capsular polysaccharide are directly tied to virulence. Here, we describe a new function for Spn’s capsule—conferring resistance to oxidative stress. Moreover, we demonstrate that capsule promotes intracellular survival of pneumococci within vascular endothelial cells and thereby enhances bacterial translocation across the vasculature and into organs. Using isogenic capsule-switch mutants, we show that different capsule types, i.e., serotypes, vary in their resistance to oxidative stress-mediated killing and that resistance is positively correlated with intracellular survival in an in vitro model, organ invasion during bacteremia in vivo, and epidemiologically established pneumococcal attack rates in humans. Our findings define a new role of capsule and provide an explanation for why certain serotypes of Spn more frequently cause invasive pneumococcal disease.
  • Published In

  • mBio  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Brissac T; Martínez E; Kruckow KL; Riegler AN; Ganaie F; Im H; Bakshi S; Arroyo-Diaz NM; Spencer BL; Saad JS
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 5