Soil organisms have been isolated which elaborate induced enzymes capable of attacking group A and variant (V) streptococcal carbohydrates. The V enzyme hydrolyzes V carbohydrate extensively to dialyzable split products with resultant total loss of precipitating activity with homologous antisera. The split products inhibit the reaction between intact V carbohydrate and its antiserum: evidence is presented which indicates that rhamnose oligosaccharides are responsible for the inhibitory effect. The serological specificity of the V carbohydrate thus appears to be primarily dependent on a rhamnose-rhamnose linkage.
The effect of the A enzyme on A carbohydrate is characterized by the removal of 50 to 70 per cent of the total glucosamine in the form of free N-acetyl-glucosamine. As a result of this treatment, the residual carbohydrate loses its reactivity with specific group A antisera and at the same time develops markedly increased cross-reactivity with V antisera. This cross-reactivity is in turn eliminated by treatment with V enzyme. The evidence suggests that the specificity of group A carbohydrate is determined to a large extent by side chains of N-acetyl-glucosamine which also serve to mask underlying rhamnose-rhamnose linkages with V specificity.