Clearance of apoptotic cells by macrophages plays an important role in maintaining tissue homeostasis. Previous study indicated that streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin B (SPE B) reduces phagocytic activity in group A streptococcus (GAS) infection. Here, we demonstrate that SPE B causes an inhibitory effect on protein S-mediated phagocytosis. In the presence of SPE B, serum- and purified protein S-mediated phagocytosis of apoptotic cells were significantly inhibited. The binding abilities of protein S to apoptotic cells were decreased by treatment with SPE B. Bacterial culture supernatants from GAS NZ131 strain also caused a reduction of protein S binding to apoptotic cells, but speB mutant strain did not. SPE B directly cleaved protein S in vitro and in vivo, whereas a lower level of cleavage occurred in mice infected with a speB isogenic mutant strain. SPE B-mediated initial cleavage of protein S caused a disruption of phagocytosis, and also resulted in a loss of binding ability of protein S-associated C4b-binding protein to apoptotic cells. Taken together, these results suggest a novel pathogenic role of SPE B that initiates protein S degradation followed by the inhibition of apoptotic cell clearance by macrophages.
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