Neuraminidases (sialidases) catalyse the removal of terminal sialic acid from glycoconjugates. Bacterial pathogens often utilize neuraminidases to scavenge host sialic acid, which can be utilized either as a nutrient or as a decorating molecule to disguise themselves from host immune attacks. Herein, a putative neuraminidase (TDE0471) was identified in Treponema denticola, an oral spirochaete associated with human periodontitis. TDE0471 is a cell surface-exposed exo-neuraminidase that removes sialic acid from human serum proteins; it is required for T.denticola to grow in a medium that mimics gingival crevice fluid, suggesting that the spirochaete may use sialic acid as a nutrient in vivo. TDE0471 protects T.denticola from serum killing by preventing the deposition of membrane attack complexes on the bacterial cell surface. Animal studies revealed that a TDE0471-deficient mutant is less virulent than its parental wild-type strain in BALB/C mice. However, it causes a level of tissue damage similar to the wild type in complement-deficient B6.129S4-C3(tm1) (Crr) /J mice albeit the damage caused by both bacterial strains is more severe in these transgenic mice. Based on these results, we propose that T.denticola has evolved a strategy to scavenge host sialic acid using its neuraminidase, which allows the spirochaete to acquire nutrients and evade complement killing.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.