Novel pneumococcal capsule type 33E results from the inactivation of glycosyltransferase WciE in vaccine type 33F.
The polysaccharide (PS) capsule is essential for immune evasion and virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Existing pneumococcal vaccines are designed to elicit anticapsule antibodies; however, the effectiveness of these vaccines is being challenged by the emergence of new capsule types or variants. Herein, we characterize a newly discovered capsule type, 33E, that appears to have repeatedly emerged from vaccine type 33F via an inactivation mutation in the capsule glycosyltransferase gene, wciE. Structural analysis demonstrated that 33E and 33F share an identical repeat unit backbone [→5)-β-D-Galf2Ac-(1→3)-β-D-Galp-(1→3)-α-D-Galp-(1→3)-β-D-Galf-(1→3)-β-D-Glcp-(1→], except that a galactose (α-D-Galp) branch is present in 33F but not in 33E. Though the two capsule types were indistinguishable using conventional typing methods, the monoclonal antibody Hyp33FM1 selectively bound 33F but not 33E pneumococci. Further, we confirmed that wciE encodes a glycosyltransferase that catalyzes the addition of the branching α-D-Galp and that its inactivation in 33F strains results in the expression of the 33E capsule type. Though 33F and 33E share a structural and antigenic similarity, our pilot study suggested that immunization with a 23-valent pneumococcal PS vaccine containing 33F PS did not significantly elicit cross-opsonic antibodies to 33E. New conjugate vaccines that target capsule type 33F may not necessarily protect against 33E. Therefore, studies of new conjugate vaccines require knowledge of the newly identified capsule type 33E and reliable pneumococcal typing methods capable of distinguishing it from 33F.