Lysozymes are ancient and important components of the innate immune system of animals that hydrolyze peptidoglycan, the major bacterial cell wall polymer. Bacteria engaging in commensal or pathogenic interactions with an animal host have evolved various strategies to evade this bactericidal enzyme, one recently proposed strategy being the production of lysozyme inhibitors. We here report the discovery of a novel family of bacterial lysozyme inhibitors with widespread homologs in gram-negative bacteria. First, a lysozyme inhibitor was isolated by affinity chromatography from a periplasmic extract of Salmonella Enteritidis, identified by mass spectrometry and correspondingly designated as PliC (periplasmic lysozyme inhibitor of c-type lysozyme). A pliC knock-out mutant no longer produced lysozyme inhibitory activity and showed increased lysozyme sensitivity in the presence of the outer membrane permeabilizing protein lactoferrin. PliC lacks similarity with the previously described Escherichia coli lysozyme inhibitor Ivy, but is related to a group of proteins with a common conserved COG3895 domain, some of them predicted to be lipoproteins. No function has yet been assigned to these proteins, although they are widely spread among the Proteobacteria. We demonstrate that at least two representatives of this group, MliC (membrane bound lysozyme inhibitor of c-type lysozyme) of E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, also possess lysozyme inhibitory activity and confer increased lysozyme tolerance upon expression in E. coli. Interestingly, mliC of Salmonella Typhi was picked up earlier in a screen for genes induced during residence in macrophages, and knockout of mliC was shown to reduce macrophage survival of S. Typhi. Based on these observations, we suggest that the COG3895 domain is a common feature of a novel and widespread family of bacterial lysozyme inhibitors in gram-negative bacteria that may function as colonization or virulence factors in bacteria interacting with an animal host.
Lysozyme is an ancient bactericidal enzyme that is part of the antibacterial defense system of vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Bacteria colonizing or infecting an animal host have developed various ways to overcome lysozyme action, a recently proposed mechanism being the production of lysozyme inhibitors. However, the only high affinity bacterial lysozyme inhibitor known thus far is produced only in few bacteria, and this raised questions about their wider relevance in bacteria–host interactions. We here report the discovery of a novel and distinct family of bacterial lysozyme inhibitors that is widely distributed among the Proteobacteria, including several major pathogens. The family comprises periplasmic as well as membrane-bound inhibitors, and both types contribute to lysozyme tolerance of bacterial cells, as we experimentally demonstrate for the periplasmic inhibitor from Salmonella Typhimurium and the membrane-bound inhibitors from Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Interestingly, a gene encoding one of the newly identified inhibitors has been previously found to promote macrophage survival of Salmonella Typhi. The widespread occurrence of lysozyme inhibitors in bacteria is likely to reflect their functional importance in a wide range of bacteria–host interactions. As such, they are also attractive novel targets for antibacterial drug development.