Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 28841717
PLoS Pathog. 2017 Aug;13(8):e1006582
For over 130 years, invasive pneumococcal disease has been associated with the presence of extracellular planktonic pneumococci, i.e. diplococci or short chains in affected tissues. Herein, we show that Streptococcus pneumoniae that invade the myocardium instead replicate within cellular vesicles and transition into non-purulent biofilms. Pneumococci within mature cardiac microlesions exhibited salient biofilm features including intrinsic resistance to antibiotic killing and the presence of an extracellular matrix. Dual RNA-seq and subsequent principal component analyses of heart- and blood-isolated pneumococci confirmed the biofilm phenotype in vivo and revealed stark anatomical site-specific differences in virulence gene expression; the latter having major implications on future vaccine antigen selection. Our RNA-seq approach also identified three genomic islands as exclusively expressed in vivo. Deletion of one such island, Region of Diversity 12, resulted in a biofilm-deficient and highly inflammogenic phenotype within the heart; indicating a possible link between the biofilm phenotype and a dampened host-response. We subsequently determined that biofilm pneumococci released greater amounts of the toxin pneumolysin than did planktonic or RD12 deficient pneumococci. This allowed heart-invaded wildtype pneumococci to kill resident cardiac macrophages and subsequently subvert cytokine/chemokine production and neutrophil infiltration into the myocardium. This is the first report for pneumococcal biofilm formation in an invasive disease setting. We show that biofilm pneumococci actively suppress the host response through pneumolysin-mediated immune cell killing. As such, our findings contradict the emerging notion that biofilm pneumococci are passively immunoquiescent.