A new model of pneumococcal lipoteichoic acid structure resolves biochemical, biosynthetic, and serologic inconsistencies of the current model

Academic Article


  • Lipoteichoic acid (LTA) is an essential bacterial membrane polysaccharide (cell wall component) that is attached to the membrane via a lipid anchor. According to the currently accepted structure of pneumococcal LTA, the polysaccharide is comprised of several repeating units, each of which starts with glucose and ends with ribitol, with the lipid anchor predicted to be Glc(β1→3)AATGal(β1→3)Glc(α1→3)-acyl 2Gro, where AATGal is 2-acetamido-4-amino-2,4,6-trideoxy-D-galactose. However, this lipid anchor has not been detected in pneumococcal membranes. Furthermore, the currently accepted structure does not explain the Forssman antigen properties of LTA and predicts a molecular weight for LTA that is larger than its actual observed molecular weight. To resolve these problems, we used mass spectrometry to analyze the structure of LTA isolated from several pneumococcal strains. Our study found that the R36A pneumococcal strain produces LTA that is more representative of pneumococci than that previously characterized from the R6 strain. Analysis of LTA fragments obtained after hydrofluoric acid and nitrous treatments showed that the fragments were consistent with an LTA nonreducing terminus consisting of GalNAc(α1→ 3)GalNAc(β1→, which is the minimal structure for the Forssman antigen. Based on these data, we propose a revised model of LTA structure: its polysaccharide repeating unit begins with GalNAc and ends with AATGal, and its lipid anchor is Glc(α1→3)-acyl2Gro, a common lipid anchor found in pneumococcal membranes. This new model accurately predicts the observed molecular weights. The revised model should facilitate investigation of the relationship between LTA's structure and its function. Copyright © 2008, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Ho SS; Cartee RT; Pritchard DG; Nahm MH
  • Start Page

  • 2379
  • End Page

  • 2387
  • Volume

  • 190
  • Issue

  • 7