UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology; Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Bacterial Infections and Mycoses | Immunology of Infectious Disease | Immunopathology | Immunoprophylaxis and Therapy | Pathogenic Microbiology


Neisseria gonorrhoeae deploys a novel immune evasion strategy wherein the lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) structure of lipooligosaccharide (LOS) is capped by the bacterial sialyltransferase, using host cytidine-5'-monophosphate (CMP)-activated forms of the nine-carbon nonulosonate (NulO) sugar N-acetyl-neuraminic acid (Neu5Ac), a sialic acid (Sia) abundant in humans. This allows evasion of complement-mediated killing by recruiting factor H (FH), an inhibitor of the alternative complement pathway, and by limiting classical pathway activation ("serum-resistance"). We utilized CMP salts of six additional natural or synthetic NulOs, Neu5Gc, Neu5Gc8Me, Neu5Ac9Ac, Neu5Ac9Az, legionaminic acid (Leg5Ac7Ac) and pseudaminic acid (Pse5Ac7Ac), to define structural requirements of Sia-mediated serum-resistance. While all NulOs except Pse5Ac7Ac were incorporated into the LNnT-LOS, only Neu5Gc incorporation yielded high-level serum-resistance and FH binding that was comparable to Neu5Ac, whereas Neu5Ac9Az and Leg5Ac7Ac incorporation left bacteria fully serum-sensitive and did not enhance FH binding. Neu5Ac9Ac and Neu5Gc8Me rendered bacteria resistant only to low serum concentrations. While serum-resistance mediated by Neu5Ac was associated with classical pathway inhibition (decreased IgG binding and C4 deposition), Leg5Ac7Ac and Neu5Ac9Az incorporation did not inhibit the classical pathway. Remarkably, CMP-Neu5Ac9Az and CMP-Leg5Ac7Ac each prevented serum-resistance despite a 100-fold molar excess of CMP-Neu5Ac in growth media. The concomitant presence of Leg5Ac7Ac and Neu5Ac on LOS resulted in uninhibited classical pathway activation. Surprisingly, despite near-maximal FH binding in this instance, the alternative pathway was not regulated and factor Bb remained associated with bacteria. Intravaginal administration of CMP-Leg5Ac7Ac to BALB/c mice infected with gonorrhea (including a multidrug-resistant isolate) reduced clearance times and infection burden. Bacteria recovered from CMP-Leg5Ac7Ac-treated mice were sensitive to human complement ex vivo, simulating in vitro findings. These data reveal critical roles for the Sia exocyclic side-chain in gonococcal serum-resistance. Such CMP-NulO analogs may provide a novel therapeutic strategy against the global threat of multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.

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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

DOI of Published Version



PLoS Pathog. 2015 Dec 2;11(12):e1005290. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005290. eCollection 2015. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

PLoS pathogens

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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