Background: The virulence role of surface antigens in a single serotype of Klebsiella pneumoniae strain have been studied, but little is known about whether their contribution will vary with serotype. Method: To investigate the role of K and O antigen in hyper-virulent strains, we constructed O and K antigen deficient mutants from serotype K1 STL43 and K2 TSGH strains from patients with liver abscess, and characterized their virulence in according to the abscess formation and resistance to neutrophil phagocytosis, serum, and bacterial clearance in liver. Results: Both of K1 and K2-antigen mutants lost their wildtype resistance to neutrophil phagocytosis and hepatic clearance, and failed to cause abscess formation. K2-antigen mutant became serum susceptible while K1-antigen mutant maintained its resistance to serum killing. The amount of glucuronic acid, indicating the amount of capsular polysaccharide (CPS, K antigen), was inversed proportional to the rate of phagocytosis. O-antigen mutant of serotype K1 strains had significantly more amount of CPS, and more resistant to neutrophil phagocytosis than its wildtype counterpart. O-antigen mutants of serotype K1 and K2 strains lost their wildtype serum resistance, and kept resistant to neutrophil phagocytosis. While both mutants lacked the same O1 antigen, O-antigen mutant of serotype K1 became susceptible to liver clearance and cause mild abscess formation, but its serotype K2 counterpart maintained these wildtype virulence. Conclusion: We conclude that the contribution of surface antigens to virulence of K. pneumoniae strains varies with serotypes.
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