Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) is an asymptomatic colonizer of the upper respiratory tract in humans. However, these apparently harmless bacteria have also a high virulence potential and are known as the etiologic agent of respiratory and life-threatening invasive diseases. Dissemination of pneumococci from the nasopharynx into the lungs or bloodstream leads to community-acquired pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis. Traditionally, pneumococcal diseases are treated with antibiotics and prevented with polysaccharide-based vaccines. However, due to the dramatic increase in antibiotic resistance and limitations of the current available vaccines, the burden of diseases remains high. Thus, combating pneumococcal transmission and infections has emphasized the need for a new generation of proteinbased vaccines. Interactions of pneumococci with soluble host proteins or cellular receptors are crucial for adherence, colonization, transmigration of host barriers and immune evasion. Therefore, surface-exposed proteins involved in these pathogenic processes and virtually expressed by all pneumococcal strains and serotypes are the prime potential targets for an immunogenic and highly protective pneumococcal-derived carrier protein of a vaccine. In this review, we will address the state of the art in deciphering, i). the conservation, distribution and pathogenic role of recently discovered pneumococcal adhesins in colonization and invasive diseases, ii). the interactions of these virulence factors with hostproteins and receptors, iii). the subversion of the host immune and cellular responses, and iv). the potential of pneumococcal adhesins as vaccine candidates.
Keywords: Pneumococci, adhesins, vaccines, virulence factors, pathogenesis, antibiotic resistance, invasion, envasion, TNFs
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