Three immunologically cross-reactive and non-cross-reactive streptococcal M proteins were analyzed by a chromatographic tryptic peptide mapping system. The results indicate that cross-reactions correlate with the extent of structural similarity among the M protein molecules analyzed. The data also reveal that free lysine is released by the action of trypsin from these three M proteins, suggesting a common lys-lys or arg-lys sequence. In addition, only one peptide has been found to be common within all three M types. This limited structural relatedness among the three M proteins examined indicates that sequence variation plays a major role in the immunological specificity of the M antigens. However, despite sequence variation, all M protein molecules have a common antiphagocytic activity. The fact that no common opsonic antibody has yet been found, even against limited M types, argues against this biological activity being solely the result of a common sequence. Based on these data, it is suggested that the antiphagocytic effect of M protein may be due to a conformationally created environment on the surface of the molecule which is selected by both immunological and biological pressure.

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