Background In Neisseria meningitidis the HrpA/HrpB two-partner secretion system (TPS) was implicated in diverse functions including meningococcal competition, biofilm formation, adherence to epithelial cells, intracellular survival and vacuolar escape. These diverse functions could be attributed to distinct domains of secreted HrpA. Methods A yeast two-hybrid screening, in vitro pull-down assay and immunofluorescence microscopy experiments were used to investigate the interaction between HrpA and the dynein light-chain, Tctex-type 1 (DYNLT1). In silico modeling was used to analyze HrpA structure. Western blot analysis was used to investigate apoptotic and pyroptotic markers. Results The HrpA carboxy-terminal region acts as a manganese-dependent cell lysin, while the results of a yeast two-hybrid screening demonstrated that the HrpA middle region has the ability to bind the dynein light-chain, Tctex-type 1 (DYNLT1). This interaction was confirmed by in vitro pull-down assay and immunofluorescence microscopy experiments showing co-localization of N. meningitidis with DYNLT1 in infected epithelial cells. In silico modeling revealed that the HrpA-M interface interacting with the DYNLT1 has similarity with capsid proteins of neurotropic viruses that interact with the DYNLT1. Indeed, we found that HrpA plays a key role in infection of and meningococcal trafficking within neuronal cells, and is implicated in the modulation of the balance between apoptosis and pyroptosis. Conclusions Our findings revealed that N. meningitidis is able to effectively infect and survive in neuronal cells, and that this ability is dependent on HrpA, which establishes a direct protein-protein interaction with DYNLTI in these cells, suggesting that the HrpA interaction with dynein could be fundamental for N. meningitidis spreading inside the neurons. Moreover, we found that the balance between apoptotic and pyroptotic pathways is heavily affected by HrpA.
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