The pulmonary collectin, surfactant protein A (SP-A), is a broad spectrum opsonin with microbicidal membrane permeabilization properties that plays a role in the innate immune response of the lung. However, the factors that govern SP-A's microbial specificity and the mechanisms by which it mediates membrane permeabilization and opsonization are not fully understood. In an effort to identify bacterial factors that confer susceptibility or resistance to SP-A, we used comparative signature-tagged mutagenesis to screen a library of 1,680 Pseudomonas aeruginosa mutants for evidence of differential pulmonary clearance in SP-A-sufficient (SP-A+/+) and SP-A-deficient (SP-A−/−) mice. Two SP-A-sensitive P. aeruginosa mutants harboring transposon insertions in genes required for salicylate biosynthesis (pch) and phosphoenolpyruvate-protein-phosphotransferase (ptsP) were recovered. The mutants were indistinguishable from the parental wild-type PA01 with regard to opsonization by SP-A, but they exhibited increased susceptibility to SP-A-mediated membrane permeabilization. These results suggest that bacterial gene functions that are required to maintain membrane integrity play crucial roles in resistance of P. aeruginosa to the permeabilizing effects of SP-A.
Everyday, normal breathing deposits numerous microorganisms on the surfactant membrane that lines the air-exchanging surfaces of the lung. Surfactant protein SP-A, a component of the surfactant membrane, helps to maintain the lung in a germ-free state by aggregating inhaled microorganisms and facilitating their ingestion by immune cells, and by increasing the permeability of their cell membranes. However, the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa is resistant to SP-A-mediated membrane disruption.
Using a genetic tool called comparative signature-tagged mutagenesis, the authors have identified two P. aeruginosa genes, pch and ptsP, that are required to resist SP-A-mediated membrane permeabilization. Molecular analyses indicate that the pch gene encodes an enzyme that synthesizes salicylate, a compound utilized by bacteria to acquire essential metal ions. The ptsP gene encodes an enzyme called phosphoenolpyruvate-protein-phosphotransferase. The loss of salicylate and phosphoenolpyruvate-protein-phosphotransferase weakens the P. aeruginosa cell membrane, which allows SP-A to poke holes on the membrane and kill the bacteria.
This is the first known report of the roles played by salicylate and phosphoenolpyruvate-protein-phosphotransferase in maintenance of bacterial membrane, and consequently, protecting bacteria from killing by SP-A, through disruption of membrane integrity.