Variation, Indispensability, and Masking in the M protein
The M protein is the major surface-associated virulence factor of group A Streptococcus (GAS) and an antigenically variable target of host immunity. How selection pressures to escape immune recognition, maintain indispensable functions, and mask vulnerabilities have shaped the sequences of the >220M protein types is unclear. Recent experiments have shed light on this question by showing that, hidden within the antigenic variability of many M protein types, are sequence patterns conserved for recruiting human C4b-binding protein (C4BP). Other host factors may be recruited in a similar manner by conserved but hidden sequence patterns in the M protein. The identification of such patterns may be applicable to the development of a GAS vaccine.
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