Group A Streptococcus produce pilus-like structures containing protective antigens and Lancefield T antigens
Although pili have long been recognized in Gram-negative pathogens as important virulence factors involved in adhesion and invasion, very little is known about extended surface organelles in Gram-positive pathogens. Here we report that Group A Streptococcus (GAS), a Gram-positive human-specific pathogen that causes pharyngitis, impetigo, invasive disease, necrotizing fasciitis, and autoimmune sequelae has long, surface-exposed, pilus-like structures composed of members of a family of extracellular matrix-binding proteins. We describe four variant pili and show that each is recognized by a specific serum of the Lancefield T-typing system, which has been used for over five decades to characterize GAS isolates. Furthermore, we show that immunization of mice with a combination of recombinant pilus proteins confers protection against mucosal challenge with virulent GAS bacteria. The data indicate that induction of a protective immune response against these structures may be a useful strategy for development of a vaccine against disease caused by GAS infection.