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Structural basis of the abscess-modulating polysaccharide A2 from Bacteroides fragilis

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Physical Sciences
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine


Zwitterionic capsular polysaccharides from pathogenic bacteria have peculiar immunological properties. They are capable of eliciting T-cell proliferation and modulating the course of abscess formation. To understand the molecular basis of this characteristic immune response, we are conducting detailed structure–function studies on these polysaccharides. We have identified, purified, and characterized an abscess-modulating polysaccharide, PS A2, from the clinical strain Bacteroides fragilis 638R. Here, we report the elucidation of both the chemical and three-dimensional structures of PS A2 by NMR spectroscopy, chemical methods, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, and restrained molecular dynamics calculations. PS A2 consists of a pentasaccharide repeating unit containing mannoheptose, N-acetylmannosamine, 3-acetamido-3,6-dideoxyglucose, 2-amino-4-acetamido-2,4,6-trideoxygalactose, fucose, and 3-hydroxybutanoic acid. PS A2 is zwitterionic and carries one cationic free amine and one anionic carboxylate in each repeating unit. It forms an extended right-handed helix with two repeating units per turn and a pitch of 20 Å. Positive and negative charges are exposed on the outer surface of the polymer in a regularly spaced pattern, which renders them easily accessible to other molecules. The helix is characterized by repeated large grooves whose lateral boundaries are occupied by the charges. The three-dimensional structure of PS A2 explicitly suggests mechanisms of interaction between zwitterionic polysaccharides and proteins.

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