Prophage exotoxins enhance colonization fitness in epidemic scarlet fever-causing Streptococcus pyogenes

Stephan Brouwer, Timothy C. Barnett, Diane Ly, Katherine J. Kasper, David M.P. De Oliveira, Tania Rivera-Hernandez, Amanda J. Cork, Liam McIntyre, Magnus G. Jespersen, Johanna Richter, Benjamin L. Schulz, Gordon Dougan, Victor Nizet, Kwok Yung Yuen, Yuanhai You, John K. McCormick, Martina L. Sanderson-Smith, Mark R. Davies, Mark J. Walker

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9 Citations (Web of Science)


The re-emergence of scarlet fever poses a new global public health threat. The capacity of North-East Asian serotype M12 (emm12) Streptococcus pyogenes (group A Streptococcus, GAS) to cause scarlet fever has been linked epidemiologically to the presence of novel prophages, including prophage ΦHKU.vir encoding the secreted superantigens SSA and SpeC and the DNase Spd1. Here, we report the molecular characterization of ΦHKU.vir-encoded exotoxins. We demonstrate that streptolysin O (SLO)-induced glutathione efflux from host cellular stores is a previously unappreciated GAS virulence mechanism that promotes SSA release and activity, representing the first description of a thiol-activated bacterial superantigen. Spd1 is required for resistance to neutrophil killing. Investigating single, double and triple isogenic knockout mutants of the ΦHKU.vir-encoded exotoxins, we find that SpeC and Spd1 act synergistically to facilitate nasopharyngeal colonization in a mouse model. These results offer insight into the pathogenesis of scarlet fever-causing GAS mediated by prophage ΦHKU.vir exotoxins.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5018
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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