Group A streptococcus (GAS) is an important human pathogen, and its invasion via blood vessels is critically important in serious events such as bacteremia or multiorgan failure. Although GAS was identified as an extracellular bacterium, the internalization of GAS into nonphagocytic cells may provide a strategy to escape from immune surveillance and antibiotic killing. However, GAS has also been reported to induce autophagy and is efficiently killed within lysosome-fused autophagosomes in epithelial cells. In this study, we show that GAS can replicate in endothelial cells and that streptolysin O is required for GAS growth. Bacterial replication can be suppressed by altering GAS gene expression in an acidic medium before internalization into endothelial cells. The inhibitory effect on GAS replication can be reversed by treatment with bafilomycin A1, a specific inhibitor of vacuolar-type H+-ATPase. Compared with epithelial cells in which acidification causes autophagy-mediated clearance of GAS, there was a defect in acidification of GAS-containing vesicles in endothelial cells. Consequently, endothelial cells fail to maintain low pH in GAS-containing autophagosomes, thereby permitting GAS replication inside LAMP-1-and LC3-positive vesicles. Furthermore, treatment of epithelial cells with bafilomycin A1 resulted in defective GAS clearance by autophagy, with subsequent bacterial growth intracellularly. Therefore, low pH is a key factor for autophagy-mediated suppression of GAS growth inside epithelial cells, while defective acidification of GAS-containing vesicles results in bacterial growth in endothelial cells.
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