Relationships among capsular structure, phagocytosis, and mouse virulence in Klebsiella pneumoniae

K. Kabha, L. Nissimov, A. Athamna, Y. Keisari, H. Parolis, L. A.S. Parolis, R. M. Grue, J. Schlepper-Schafer, A. R.B. Ezekowitz, D. E. Ohman, I. Ofek*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Klebsiella pneumoniae strains of the K2 capsular serotype are usually highly virulent in mice, which is in contrast to the low virulence of most other serotypes. Here we used a genetic approach to examine the relative contribution of capsule type to the virulence of K. pneumoniae in mice. We used wild-type strains expressing capsular polysaccharide (CPS) serotypes K2 (strain KPA1) and K21a (strains KPB1 and KPC1), which were then used to construct capsule-switched derivatives. The close proximity of the cps gene cluster to selectable his markers made it possible to mobilize the cps genes by conjugation from one serotype (donor) to another (recipient) and to obtain recombinants in which interserotype switching had occurred by reciprocal recombination. Each capsule-switched derivative examined of the KPA and KPC strain backgrounds produced a CPS thai was immunologically and structurally identical to that of the donor. Strain background was confirmed by demonstrating restriction fragment length polymorphism patterns identical to those of the respective recipients. The parent strains were then compared with capsule-switched recombinants for phenotypic properties associated with virulence. Clearance from the bloodstreams of mice was rapid in serotype K21a strains of either wild-type or recombinant origin, whereas K2 strains remained viable in the blood during the period examined. These differences appeared to be dependent upon the CPS type but independent of strain background. Binding to macrophages was higher in K21a strains than in those with the K2 capsule and was also independent of the strain background. Both blood clearance and macrophage-binding activities were completely inhibited by yeast mannan, suggesting that they were mediated via the macrophage mannose receptor. The K2 parent strain was highly virulent to mice (50% lethal dose [LD50], 3 x 103), while the K21a parent strains demonstrated low virulence (LD50, >2 x 108. Interestingly, the virulence of recombinant KPC10(cpsK2), originally of the KPC1(cpsK21a) background, was intermediate (LD50, 4 x 105). In contrast, both cpsK21a recombinants of the originally virulent KPA1 (cpsK2) background became nearly avirulent (LD50, >2 x 108). Six additional serotypes (K12, K24, K32, K55, K62, and K67) were examined, and all showed a positive correlation between the ability of the Klebsiella serotype to interact with a human mannose receptor, as expressed by Cos I cell recombinants, and the LD50 of the serotype. These results suggest that expression of a capsule which is recognized by the mannose receptor markedly affects the interaction with macrophages and blood clearance. The virulence of the cpsK2 recombinant of the KPC background may have been enhanced because it was expressing a heterologous capsule not recognized by the mannose receptor. Thus, this study shows that the capsule type plays an important role in the rate of blood clearance and phagocytosis but contributes only partially to the virulence of K. pneumoniae in mice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-852
Number of pages6
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious DiseasesR01AI019146


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