Mol Microbiol 2020
Extracellular capsule polysaccharides increase the cellular fitness under abiotic stresses and during competition with other bacteria. They are best-known for their role in virulence, particularly in human hosts. Specifically, capsules facilitate tissue invasion by enhancing bacterial evasion from phagocytosis and protect cells from biocidal molecules. Klebsiella pneumoniae is a worrisome nosocomial pathogen with few known virulence factors, but the most important one is its capsule. In this issue, Tan et al. assess the fitness advantage of the capsule by competing a wild-type strain against four different mutants where capsule production is interrupted at different stages of the biosynthetic pathway. Strikingly, not all mutants provide a fitness advantage. They suggest that some mutants have secondary defects altering virulence-associated phenotypes and blurring the role of the capsule in pathogenesis. This study indicates that the K1 capsule in K. pneumoniae is not required for gut colonization but that it is critical for bloodstream dissemination to other organs. These results contribute to clarify the contradictory literature on the role of the Klebsiella capsule during infection. Finally, the varying fitness effects of different capsule mutations observed for K. pneumoniae K1 might apply also to other capsulated diderm bacteria that are facultative or emerging pathogens.