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The Pneumococcal Serotype 15C Capsule Is Partially O-Acetylated and Allows for Limited Evasion of 23-Valent Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine-Elicited Anti-Serotype 15B Antibodies.

As a species, Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) utilizes a diverse array of capsular polysaccharides to evade the host. In contrast to large variations in sugar composition and linkage formation, O-acetylation is a subtle capsular modification that nonetheless has a large impact on capsular shielding and recognition of the capsule by vaccine-elicited antibodies. Serotype 15B, which is included in the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23), carries the putative O-acetyltransferase gene wciZ The coding sequence of wciZ contains eight consecutive TA repeats [(TA)8 ]. Replication slippage is thought to result in the addition or loss of TA repeats, subsequently causing frameshift and truncation of WciZ to yield a nonacetylated serotype, 15C. Using sensitive serological tools, we show that serotype 15C isolates whose wciZ contains seven or nine TA repeats retain partial O-acetylation, while serotype 15C isolates whose wciZ contains six TA repeats have barely detectable O-acetylation. We confirmed by inhibition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay that (TA)7 serotype 15C is ∼0.1% as acetylated as serotype 15B, while serotype 15X is nonacetylated. To eliminate the impact of genetic background, we created isogenic serotype 15B, (TA)7 serotype 15C, and 15BΔ wciZ (15X) strains and found that reduction or absence of WciZ-mediated O-acetylation did not affect capsular shielding from phagocytes, biofilm formation, adhesion to nasopharyngeal cells, desiccation tolerance, or murine colonization. Sera from PPV23-immunized persons opsonized serotype 15B significantly but only slightly better than serotypes 15C and 15X; thus, PPV23 may not result in expansion of serotype 15C.

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