BACKGROUND: The family of 4 related protease-activated receptors (PAR-1, 2, 3 & 4) expressed by mammalian cells allow to sense for and react to extracellular proteolytic activity. Since major human bacterial pathogens secret a wide array of protease(-s) we investigated whether they interfere with human PAR function.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Supernatants from cultures of major human bacterial pathogens were assayed for the presence of protease(-s) capable to cleave overexpressed human PAR-1, 2, 3 and 4 reporter constructs. Group A streptococcus (GAS) was found to secret a PAR-1-cleaving protease. Experiments involving genetical and pharmacological gain and loss of function identified streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin B SpeB as the protease responsible. On the host's side analysis of overexpressed PAR-1 carrying alanine substitutions and deletions showed the amino acid residue leucine44 on PAR-1's extracellular N-terminus to be the only cleavage site. Complementary studies on endogenously expressed PAR-1 using PAR-1 blocking antibodies further supported our conclusion. Through PAR-1 cleavage SpeB efficiently blunted thrombin-induced induction of the ERK-pathway in endothelial cells and prevented platelets aggregation in response to thrombin.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results identify a novel function of the streptococcal virulence factor SpeB. By cleaving human PAR-1 at the N-terminal amino acid residue leucine44 SpeB rendered endothelial cells unresponsive to thrombin and prevented human platelets from thrombin-induced aggregation. These results suggest that by blunting PAR-1 signaling, SpeB modulates various innate host responses directed against invasive GAS potentially helping the invasive bacteria to escape. This may allow to tailor additional treatments in the future since upon invasion of the blood stream endothelial cells as well as platelets and mononuclear cells respond to PAR-1 agonists aiming to prevent further bacterial dissemination.