GspB is a serine-rich repeat (SRR) adhesin of Streptococcus gordonii that mediates binding of this organism to human platelets via its interaction with sialyl-T antigen on the receptor GPIbα. This interaction appears to be a major virulence determinant in the pathogenesis of infective endocarditis. To address the mechanism by which GspB recognizes its carbohydrate ligand, we determined the high-resolution x-ray crystal structure of the GspB binding region (GspBBR), both alone and in complex with a disaccharide precursor to sialyl-T antigen. Analysis of the GspBBR structure revealed that it is comprised of three independently folded subdomains or modules: 1) an Ig-fold resembling a CnaA domain from prokaryotic pathogens; 2) a second Ig-fold resembling the binding region of mammalian Siglecs; 3) a subdomain of unique fold. The disaccharide was found to bind in a pocket within the Siglec subdomain, but at a site distinct from that observed in mammalian Siglecs. Confirming the biological relevance of this binding pocket, we produced three isogenic variants of S. gordonii, each containing a single point mutation of a residue lining this binding pocket. These variants have reduced binding to carbohydrates of GPIbα. Further examination of purified GspBBR-R484E showed reduced binding to sialyl-T antigen while S. gordonii harboring this mutation did not efficiently bind platelets and showed a significant reduction in virulence, as measured by an animal model of endocarditis. Analysis of other SRR proteins revealed that the predicted binding regions of these adhesins also had a modular organization, with those known to bind carbohydrate receptors having modules homologous to the Siglec and Unique subdomains of GspBBR. This suggests that the binding specificity of the SRR family of adhesins is determined by the type and organization of discrete modules within the binding domains, which may affect the tropism of organisms for different tissues.
The binding of bacteria to human platelets is thought to be important for development of infective endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the cardiovascular system. Streptococcus gordonii is a leading cause of endocarditis. This pathogen uses a protein called GspB to attach to carbohydrates on human platelets. While this binding interaction appears to be mediated by a specific, contiguous domain within GspB, little is known about the molecular details of the interaction between GspB and the carbohydrate receptors on its human host. We therefore determined the crystal structure of the region of GspB that binds to platelet carbohydrates, both alone and in complex with a synthetic carbohydrate receptor. Using this structure as a guide, we were able to produce three strains of S. gordonii that lacked the ability to bind to platelet carbohydrates. One of these isogenic variants was studied more in-depth and lacked the ability to bind to human platelets in vitro and was reduced in virulence when tested in vivo. These studies provide the first structural information detailing the molecular interactions between any serine-rich repeat adhesin and its host receptor, and identify how different, related adhesins may have evolved different specificities for host receptors.