The native capsular polysaccharide antigen of type III, group B Streptococcus contains a terminal sialic acid residue on each repeating unit that masks all end-group galactopyranose residues and prevents alternative pathway complement activation by adult human sera in the absence of type-specific antibody. The critical role of the sialic acid residues in allowing the organism to evade activating the alternative complement pathway was shown when neuraminidase treatment of the organism converted the bacteria to activators of the alternative pathway as assessed in agammaglobulinemic serum. The requirement for specific antibody in permitting alternative pathway activation by the fully sialated bacteria was shown when sera that contained low levels of specific antibody failed to activate this pathway, and when prior absorption of serum that contained higher type-specific antibody levels with the capsular antigen failed to activate this pathway. The use of C2-deficient sera showed that the calssical pathway was not required for antibody-dependent alternative pathway activation. The use of isotonic, pH 7.5, veronal-NaCl buffer that contained 1% gelatin and that was supplemented to 4 mM Mg++ and 16 mM EGTA and adjusted to pH 7.5 (MgEGTA) ruled out the participation of the C1-bypass pathway. The presence of sialic acid on the bacterial surface is one means of evading an important mechanism of natural immunity, namely activation of complement by the alternative pathway. Only specific antibody, i.e., acquired immunity, can overcome this virulence factor.

This content is only available as a PDF.