Complement factor C3 deposition and serum resistance in isogenic capsule and lipooligosaccharide sialic acid mutants of serogroup B Neisseria meningitidis

Ulrich Vogel*, Andreas Weinberger, Ronald Frank, Astrid Müller, Jörg Köhl, John P. Atkinson, Matthias Frosch

*Corresponding author for this work
82 Citations (Scopus)


Serogroup B meningococci express sialic acids on their surfaces as a modification of the lipooligosaccharide (LOS) and as capsular material consisting of α2,8-linked sialic acid homopolymers. The aim of this study was to elucidate the impact of each sialic acid component on the deposition of complement factor C3 and serum resistance. For this purpose, we used isogenic mutants deficient in capsule expression (a polysialyltransferase mutant) or sialylation of the LOS (a galE mutant) or both (a mutant with a deletion of the cps gene locus). Bactericidal assays using 40% normal human serum (NHS) demonstrated that both the capsule and LOS sialic acid are indispensable for serum resistance. By immunoblotting with monoclonal antibody MAb755 that is specific for the C3 α-chain, we were able to demonstrate that C3 from 40% NHS was covalently linked to the surface structures of meningococci as C3b and iC3b, irrespective of the surface sialic acid compounds. However, C3b linkage was more pronounced and occurred on a larger number of target molecules in galE mutants with nonsialylated LOS than in meningococci with wild-type LOS, irrespective of the capsule phenotype. C3b deposition was caused by both the classical pathway (CP) and the alternative pathway of complement activation. Use of 10% NHS revealed that at low serum concentrations, C3 deposition occurred via the CP and was detected primarily on nonsialylated-LOS galE mutants, irrespective of the capsular phenotype. Accordingly, immunoglobulin M (IgM) binding to meningococci from heat-inactivated NHS was demonstrated only in both encapsulated and unencapsulated galE mutants. In contrast, inhibition of IgA binding required both encapsulation and LOS sialylation. We conclude that serum resistance in wild-type serogroup B meningococci can only be partly explained by an alteration of the C3b linkage pattern, which seems to depend primarily on the presence of wild-type LOS, since a serum-resistant phenotype also requires capsule expression.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)4022-4029
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.1997


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