The association of only certain M protein serotypes of group A streptococci with acute glomerulonephritis is very well recognized. Structural information on the M protein, a dimeric alpha-helical coiled-coil molecule, has come so far from three rheumatogenic serotypes, 5, 6, and 24. However, M proteins from the nephritogenic serotypes have not been well characterized. In the present study, we have isolated a biologically active 20,000 Mr pepsin fragment of type 49 M protein (PepM49), a nephritogenic serotype, and purified it to homogeneity using DEAE-Sephadex and gel filtration. The amino acid composition of PepM49 is similar to those of the rheumatogenic M protein serotypes PepM5, PepM6, and PepM24. However, the sequence of the NH2-terminal 60 residues of PepM49 shows little homology to any of these M protein serotypes, although the latter have significant homology among themselves. Nevertheless, PepM49 exhibits a strong heptad periodicity in its nonpolar residues, suggesting its overall conformational similarity with the other M molecules. During the course of the present studies, Moravek et al. (17) reported the NH2-terminal sequence of another M protein serotype, PepM1, which also does not exhibit much homology with the PepM5, PepM6, and PepM24 proteins. Our analysis of this sequence revealed that the PepM1 protein also exhibits a heptad periodicity of the nonpolar amino acids. A closer examination has revealed that the pattern of heptad periodicity in PepM49 and PepM1 proteins is more regular and more similar to each other than has been previously seen for the PepM5, PepM6, and PepM24 proteins. PepM1 is also a nephritogenic serotype. Taken together, these findings indicate an underlying conservation of the tertiary structure of the various M protein serotypes, despite the complexity in their antigenic variation and suggest that the nephritogenic M protein serotypes M1 and M49 may be further apart evolutionarily from the rheumatogenic serotypes 5, 6, and 24. The distinct differences in the structural features of the PepM1 and PepM49 proteins relative to the PepM5, PepM6, and PepM24 proteins are also suggestive of a correlation with the earlier broader classification of the group A streptococci into rheumatogenic and nephritogenic serotypes.

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